Blackwater's new contract will be buzz of hearing
When hearings on war-zone security contractors continue Monday, representatives of the best known -- or most notorious -- firm in the business will not be at the witness table.
The firm's controversial track record in Iraq, from where it was recently evicted, won't be on the official docket either.
But the federal Commission on Wartime Contracting is going to be talking about Blackwater Worldwide (now known as XE Services) nevertheless, given word late Friday that the State Department had just awarded it a $120 million contract for work in Afghanistan.
Officials of the companies that lost out to Blackwater/XE are all scheduled to testify Monday afternoon on Capitol Hill. The commission is also going to take up new problems with private security guards in Iraq.
The Afghanistan contract, to provide “protective security services” at new U.S. consulates in Herat and Mazar-e-Sharif, comes only four months after the Iraqi government expelled Blackwater/XE. Individuals from the firm are being prosecuted by the Justice Department for allegedly shooting unarmed civilians in Baghdad.
The company won the contract over two other American firms — Triple Canopy and DynCorp International, the Associated Press reported from Kabul, quoting U.S. embassy spokeswoman Caitlin Hayden. The one-year contract can be extended twice, for three months each, for a maximum of 18 months, the A.P. said.
The heads of DynCorp and Triple Canopy were scheduled to testify at the commission hearing Monday afternoon, along with the president of Aegis Defense Services and Jerry Torres, chief executive officer of Torres Advanced Enterprise Solutions. But Torres decided last Wednesday not to testify, according to a commission source. The source said Torres was to have come under special scrutiny for allegedly "attempting to place unvetted security guards to protect U.S. troops in Iraq."
Blackwater's expulsion from Iraq did not prohibit U.S. Training Center, a unit of Moyock, N.C.-based XE Services, from bidding on the Afghanistan contract, an unidentified State Department spokeswoman told CBS News, which broke the story Friday night.
"Under federal acquisition regulations, the prosecution of the specific Blackwater individuals does not preclude the company or its successive companies and subsidiaries from bidding on contracts," the spokeswoman was quoted as saying.
"On the basis of full and open competition, the department performed a full technical evaluation of all proposals and determined the U.S. Training Center has the best ability and qualifications to meet the contract requirements."
The federal Commission on Wartime Contracting has been investigating the proper role and oversight of more than 40,000 private security contractors supporting U.S. operations in Southwest Asia.
Friday’s hearing examined whether the government should exclude private contractors from some or all security tasks in Iraq and Afghanistan. Monday morning’s session will feature testimony from officials from the State and Defense departments and the U.S. Agency for International Development.
The hearings “are not intended either to attack or champion private security companies,” said the co-chairs of the commission, former Rep. Christopher Shays (R-Conn.) and Michael J. Thibault, a former deputy director of the Defense Contract Audit Agency, in a joint opening statement on Friday.
“The question we tackle today does not depend on whether [their] performance deserves praise or blame, on what they cost, or on how well their contracts are managed. The question here is whether they are performing inherently governmental functions that should not be contracted out in whole or in part, no matter what the demand or workload."
According to the Commission on Wartime Contracting, the Defense Department of Defense had roughly 14,000 private security personnel under contract in Iraq during the first quarter of 2010. “That number is nearly equal to the personnel strength of a World War II American infantry division,” the commission said.
| June 21, 2010; 10:00 AM ET
Categories: Financial/business, Intelligence, Military | Tags: Aegis Defense Services, Cerberus, DynCorp International, Torres Advanced Enterprise Solutions, Triple Canopy
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