Commission: DOD has acquisition problems in Iraq, Afghanistan

An interim report from the Commission on Wartime Contracting said the Defense Department doesn't have enough trained people to manage contracts in Iraq and Afghanistan.

In those nations, “there is a critical shortage of qualified contract-management personnel in theater, and those that are there are stretched too thin. In particular, the process for designating and training contracting officer’s representatives (CORs) to check contractor performance in theater is broken,” according to the commission's report released June 10.

The shortage of staff members is evident in all parts of the acquisition process, from defining contract requirements to having the work done well and closing out the contract, the commission said. The government can’t manage both its contracts and the contractors doing the work without the appropriate number of well-trained people, especially CORs, the report states.

CORs oversee the contractor’s work and relay concerns to the contracting officer or other managers. Experts and officials say CORs are responsible for building metrics into contracts to measure contractors’ performance and noting when they go astray.

The commission reported that, on average, a COR is responsible for overseeing 3.55 contracts, and one COR had 19 contracts to monitor. Also, the commission noted that the responsibilities of most personnel who have COR duties are in addition to their primary job, and CORs' skills aren’t matched to the types of service contracts they are required to monitor.

Some CORs in Afghanistan told the commission that they received a two-hour course in their COR-related duties and were told “to run with it.”

Despite being extra work, the contracting commission believes the CORs are especially important in Iraq and Afghanistan. “The risk of failure has great consequences,” the commission wrote.

DOD's reported obligations on its own services contracts climbed from roughly $92 billion in 2001 to slightly more than $200 billion in 2008. That year, more than $25 billion went for services to support contingency operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, the report states. While the numbers and value of those service contracts have risen dramatically, agencies have not also increased the number of well-trained and skilled acquisition personnel, the report states.

The commission found such serious procurement problems in Iraq and Afghanistan that officials didn’t want to wait until the final report is released next year before they get attention, officials told the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee’s National Security and Foreign Affairs Subcommittee June 10.

The commission’s co-chairmen, Michael Thibault and Christopher Shays, noted several workforce-related areas that need immediate attention to avoid wasted money and poor oversight of military operations. For example, the decreasing number of U.S. military forces in Iraq risks incurring enormous waste there, as an already-limited acquisition workforce is shifted to Afghanistan. Meanwhile, DOD officials need to speed up its plans to establish a contracting command in Afghanistan as the troop surge continues.

About the Author

Matthew Weigelt is a freelance journalist who writes about acquisition and procurement.

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