Questions raised about IT contract used for interrogators
The political fallout from the Abu Ghraib prison abuse has only just begun, but the scandal may have even more ramifications. Consequences may extend all the way to the technology sector as more facts emerge about the alleged misuse of a technology contract to hire interrogators.
CACI International Inc. is at the center of the maelstrom because company officials accepted work on a contract intended for information technology services but ended up providing interrogators to the now-infamous Iraqi prison.
CACI officials confirmed that the General Services Administration is conducting a review of their policies and practices, but many experts said it is unlikely that the company will be debarred from federal work.
The situation has raised questions about how an IT contract could be used for interrogation services at an Iraqi prison.
In the case of CACI and the interrogators, the Defense Department had a perceived need for more interrogators, but no contract for such a job existed, said Steve
Kelman, a professor at Harvard University and former administrator of the Office of Federal Procurement Policy during the Clinton administration.
To remedy the situation, DOD officials took a circuitous route by using a blanket purchase agreement established in 1998 at Fort Huachuca, Ariz. The BPA was transferred to the Interior Department's National Business Center in 2001 and was extended for five years. That BPA was intended for IT services.
Although debarment seems unlikely, the company has become an example for GSA officials to discourage future misuse of contracts, experts said. The IT services CACI provides could be performed by several other companies, and they aren't a behemoth government contractor, experts said.
"The work that CACI does is fairly expendable," said Danielle Brian, executive director of the Project on Government Oversight. "They are a replaceable company, and the government has a history of cracking down harder on the smaller companies than they do on companies like Lockheed Martin, which has become virtually indispensable to the Defense Department.
"I don't think CACI has done anything to merit debarment, but the debarment and suspension systems are often used for the wrong reasons," she said.
Brian added that she feels CACI could stand a greater chance for debarment than other high-profile companies in the past, such as WorldCom, which has since been renamed MCI.
A procurement expert who spoke on the condition on anonymity said that although no one condones DOD's behavior in buying services out of scope, officials should not lose perspective.
"People are rightfully upset about the abuses and are fairly raising questions about them," the official said. "But they wouldn't be less upset about them if buying the contractor's services had gone through the normal competitive process."
In other words, he said, "in the hierarchy of sins, this one just isn't very high up there."
But the case has raised questions about whether IT contracts are being widely abused. Government officials and vendors have a slew of contract vehicles available, including the GSA schedule contracts and agency governmentwide acquisition contracts that offer easy buying options. One question raised by this case is whether buying services outside the scope of an IT contract has become systemically accepted.
"It's hard to know how widespread misuse of IT contracts is," Kelman said. "We can only guess at this point, but I can't imagine it's that prevalent."
Kelman explained that most of the services that federal agencies need to outsource are clearly defined, and contract vehicles exist for those jobs. In this case, however, no contract vehicle for interrogators existed, so an existing contract — albeit for IT — was used.
In a written statement, CACI officials said that the company abides by federal procurement policies and, if any irregularities are found, they will be immediately rectified.
"GSA has requested that CACI provide information to aid in its determination [of] whether CACI should remain eligible for future government contracts," the May 26 CACI statement says.
"We remain committed to the full investigation and resolution of these matters," said CACI's president and chief executive officer, J.P. London.
Brian said she finds it difficult to blame the contractors in this particular case. The responsibility should rest with the contracting agency for misusing the systems, she said.
"If the government comes to you and says they have more work out there for you to do, why should you turn it down?" she asked. "Somebody else will be right there to do it for them, and they will reap the benefits."
The system has warped in the past several years as vendors offer all-encompassing solutions and no longer focus in any one particular area, Brian said. Because of the new model, vendors are awarded contracts for a relatively specific service but are asked to perform much more.
"There is a tacit acceptance of this," she said. "There is little transparency, no accountability, and I think if more of these contracts were scrutinized, we'd see all kinds of problems."
The National Business Center is a fee-for-service procurement vehicle on the Interior Department. The original contract was awarded to Premier Technology Group LLC, which was acquired by CACI in 2003. Premier Technology Group was founded in 1990 and focused its business on technology and intelligence services for the military. When CACI bought the company, all of the existing contracts went along with the deal.
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