Army extends General Dynamics IT work on African news websites

Sabahi Online. serves Somalia, Ethiopia, Eritrea and Kenya in Arabic, Somali, Swahili and English.

The U.S. Army's Africa Command awarded a $6.9 million bridge contract to General Dynamics IT to continue its work on two news aggregation, commentary and community websites operating in North Africa and the Horn of Africa, despite a congressional mandate to shut the programs down., an Arabic-language site that has English and French translations, covers Algeria, Libya, Mauritania, Morocco, and Tunisia. covers Somalia, Ethiopia, Eritrea and Kenya in Arabic, Somali, Swahili and English. An extension was necessary in order to prevent an 8 to 10 month lapse in publication when the current contract expired at the end of September, according to partially redacted contracting documents posted on FedBizOpps.

As with a lot of limited-case justifications, the documents indicate that without a bridge contract it will be problematic to transition between the incumbent and a new contractor. However, the documents suggest that the contracting officers are also painfully aware of problems specific to publishers, noting that, "in order to retain the loyalty and interest of target audiences, the websites must continue their regulator publication of new content." Additionally, there is the concern that, "distribution of new articles via Google News and other services will stop after too many days without updates."

The work on the site, dubbed the AFRICOM website influence platform (AWIP) covers translation and posting of comments, writing polls and surveys, Google Adwords maintenance, and, somewhat ominously, "page modifications in response to AFRICOM requests."

The sites themselves make no secret of U.S. official involvement -- AFRICOM's sponsorship is mentioned on the "about us" pages of both sites. The documents indicate that because "much of this dissemination occurs in areas where AFRICOM has no 'boots on the ground,'" suspending operations will negatively impact "AFRICOM's web influence activity."

The two sites were part of a larger effort run by the U.S. Special Operations Command called the Trans Regional Web Initiative. The program came under fire in an April 2013 Government Accountability Office report that found the sites weren't well coordinated with efforts across the military and government.

The fiscal 2014 defense policy act eliminated authorization for all but $2 million in operations and maintenance to wind down or transfer the programs to civilian agencies. The report of the Senate Armed Services committee released in June stated that "the effectiveness of the websites is questionable, and the performance metrics do not justify the expense," and that such activities "would be more appropriately funded and managed by the State Department and other relevant U.S. government agencies with support from [Special Operations command], as necessary."

However, according to the contracting documents, guidance from the undersecretary of Defense for policy indicated that work on the AWIP and other regional sites could continue under the auspices of the geographical combatant commands. A new solicitation is expected to go out by November of this year. 

About the Author

Adam Mazmanian is executive editor of FCW.

Before joining the editing team, Mazmanian was an FCW staff writer covering Congress, government-wide technology policy and the Department of Veterans Affairs. Prior to joining FCW, Mazmanian was technology correspondent for National Journal and served in a variety of editorial roles at B2B news service SmartBrief. Mazmanian has contributed reviews and articles to the Washington Post, the Washington City Paper, Newsday, New York Press, Architect Magazine and other publications.

Click here for previous articles by Mazmanian. Connect with him on Twitter at @thisismaz.


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