Federal Eye: Security at U.S. Embassy in Kabul Panned

Lawmakers grilled representatives of the State Department and a private security firm today on the details and administration of a contract to provide protective services at the U.S. embassy in Kabul, Afghanistan, suggesting that the company’s deficiencies in the past two years may have placed the compound at risk of an attack.

Deputy Assistant Secretary of State William H. Moser told a Senate subcommittee on contracting oversight that the State Department later this month will renew its agreement with ArmorGroup North America (AGNA) , despite lingering concerns with weapons shortages, the company’s training programs and the poor English language skills of some guards, mostly Nepalese ghurkas.

“Effective contract administration in a war zone is challenging,” Moser said at the hearing.

According to documents provided by the subcommittee, State Department officials first raised concerns with AGNA’s performance only 19 days into the agreement. Contracting officers wrote to company officials that a shortage of guards and armored vehicles threatens to “endanger performance of the contract to such a degree that the security of the U.S. embassy in Kabul is in jeopardy.”

In August 2008, the State Department questioned the company’s ability to respond in the aftermath of a major incident, suggesting it lacked contingency plans if faced with a personnel shortage due to the resignation, illness or death of guards in an attack.

Subcommittee chairwoman Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) yesterday agreed with the State Department’s decision to renew the AGNA contract, despite reservations about the company’s performance.

“The Kabul embassy contract can be viewed as a case study on how mismanagement and lack of oversight can result in poor performance,” she said. The Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee established McCaskill’s ad-hoc panel in January to investigate government contracting abuse.

Though the Marines and the State Department’s Diplomatic Security Service provide embassy protection, the government contracts out some security responsibilities at several overseas outposts. In July 2007, the State Department awarded a five-year, $189.3 million contract to AGNA, which is now a subsidiary of Wackenhut Inc. (The same company that provides security at the Holocaust Museum.) The contract included one base year with the option of renewing for four additional years.

Wackenhut Vice President Samuel Brinkley defended his company’s performance yesterday, noting it has addressed the government’s concerns since it acquired AGNA in May 2008. He expressed frustration however with the contract’s financial arrangements, noting that Wackenhut loses $1 million per month on the agreement.

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