The Commission on Wartime Contracting (CWC) has issued their interim report on wartime contracting in IRaq and Afghanistan. I would recommend reading it if contracting in warzones is either something that you do now, something that you have considered doing or are a taxpayer of this country. No matter what your level in the workforce would be, it is a good read and will give you valuable insight.
A few myths that are dispelled in this text are:
1. KBR was awarded LOGCAP III with no bidding. You hear this constantly from the media that the evil KBR won the LOGCAP contract without bidding. Simply not true. They won the IDIQ contract in fair open competition. However, the way the IDIQ was written there was no mechanism to include other bidders in future IDIQ task orders. The original contract was only meant to last 18 months, not going on 10 years! No one thought we were going to be in Iraq and Afghanistan this long.
2. KBR is doing a bad job in Iraq. Again, you hear this in the media. It is simply not supported by the facts on the ground. KBR has consistently out performed their competitors on other contracts, consistently getting top reviews and rankings from Award Fee Board (AFEB) members throughout the life of the contract. Reading thru the report you will find numerous areas where KBR has delivered on the ground. Supplying the troops with what they need, good meal facilities, adequate facilities for eating, sleeping and recreation and meeting surge needs whenever asked. I invite you to become more educated on this by reading the report in full, not just the headlines.
The purpose of this post was not to pontificate about the greatness of KBR. It's really to point out a few simple facts:
1. The contractor civilian workforce that volunteers to go and work in these places is just that, volunteer.
2. The contractor civilian workforce will stay. The contractor (KBR, FLuor, Dynacorp, etc) constantly change due to politics, rebidding, contract expiration, etc. In the end, the contractors will end up with the SAME workforce.
If you've been around this business long enough you will find that every place that you go in the warzones you will find there to be familiar faces and names. That's because the cadre of folks, especially in specialized fields (engineering, construction and logistics) tend to be recycled.
From the report: The corps of engineers is executing a project to construct 900 Afghan National Army (ANA/ANSF) security compounds for a total cost of $11billion. The SIGAR report and the CWC report point to the fact that due to 'inadequate planning for construction' the entire $11billion is at risk! The corps of engineers is the largest construction agency in the world, how could that be? Could it really be as simple as people? The people on the ground for the corps of engineers and other agencies generally follow the same rotation as military personnel, 1 year maximum tours.
Could be that this is especially problematic in this environment as the rate of change is dramatics and shifting out key leadership positions with this amount of frequency has greatly enhanced the mismanagement problem. By the time the leader gets his arms around things it's time for him to go. The CWC recommends that the government needs to extend these tours, provide a dedicated contingency contracting managmenet force and centralize it's execution. I agree with this approach.
There is a table included in the report that shows the number of government agencies supporting contingency construction activities. The table shows over 17 government agencies that support contingency operations in the warzone. How could the government possibly expect to do this work effeciently when supporting only one year tours for the leadership in country for these positions? Not realistic or possible in any environment especially in a complex / contingency environment that has political, social, interpersonal, tribal and hostile factors added to the equation.
What does happen and I've experienced this myself is the contractors themselves become the resident experts and end up being the driving force behind much of what goes on. Think of it this way, when a new director of an agency in country arrives in the warzone with saucer sized eyes, the first person he meets likely is his civilian contractor. The civilian contractor profile shows that he has been on the ground for 2 or more years and knows the in's and out's of how to get things done. Should it be this way? Even though I was one of those contractors for 2 years, I would say no. The government agency leaders need to be the ones with the institutional knowledge, not the contractors. This can only happen by being there. Period. Conference calls, white papers, video conferences, etc, etc all help, but in the end the government needs to commit to putting these leaders on the ground for a minimum of 2 years. It sucks for them, but they are well compensated for it and would earn better retirements and rank in the long run.