Wednesday, October 15, 2008

And We’re Outsourcing This Because?

Steve at Dead Men Working recently highlighted a report on State using contractors to investigate other contractors.

The Project on Government Oversight (POGO) has made publicly available for the first time an unredacted copy of a $4.4 million contract between the U.S. State Department and U.S. Investigations Services (USIS), an information services company, to staff a special team that investigates possible crimes committed by American private security contractors (PSCs) working in Iraq. This contract was first reported last week on the ABC News web site, but POGO has now released the full and unedited document. POGO notes that:

“This contract could violate the law that prohibits certain "inherently governmental" functions from being outsourced to the private sector. Sen. Russell Feingold (D-Wis.) wrote to the Secretary of State last month, urging her to cancel the contract because, according to the law, the direct conduct of criminal investigations is an inherently governmental function.”

“POGO has blogged in the past about private security contractors, a fast-growing yet extremely secretive area of federal contracting. "The government is increasingly using private security contractors to protect U.S. officials and provide other security services throughout the world, sometimes with tragic consequences," said POGO investigator Neil Gordon. "If the State Department then turns over its responsibility of overseeing its contractors to yet other contractors, you have to wonder who's really minding the store."

See POGO's blog for more details about USIS and its contract with the State Department. USIS not only appears to have an interesting history, it also has quite a group of interesting characters.

And soooo -- we’re outsourcing this because? Woof!


I’d like to see a diagram of how that decision making process went.

Contractors. Investigating. Other Contractors = Extreme Outsourcing.

Even if everything is above board, it still does not look nor sound good, guys! Haven't you learned anything about perception being reality? I won’t say too much about how that contract money boggles the mind; suffice to say that where I am – the official cell phones have the cheapest contract available and they work well occasionally. At one other post where supposedly potable water is cloudy, post won’t have water tested. Why? Rumor has it that post could not afford the added expenditure of safe drinking water for its employees and their families. Different pots of money, waaaa! [insert picture of me pulling my hair here].

But I digress - okay, I understand that the investigation needs to get done. I get that. But there was funding for additional Diplomatic Security agents, why was it not possible to find 11 employees to do this inherent government function in Iraq? That I don’t get. But that’s just me. I used to have a driver who wanted orange juice, rice, chicken, beans, eggs, etc. for breakfast. I fired him and got myself a new driver. I've always thought that when the help is giving me more work, it's time to find new help. You don't hire additional help just to take care of your old help.

State is an agency that has suffered badly from serial underfunding. It does not have a natural constituency to lobby Congress for more money and it is “bleeding,” not only from lack of resources but from people leaving the Service (I'm sure we'll hear the favorite 4% attrition rate number here). In any case, my point is - it needs all the help it can get if it were to assume its proper role in 21st century engagement. And it simply cannot afford to let the American public wonder if anyone is minding the store.

Before this blows up like a giant bubble gum, I’d like to see “M” explain why this extreme outsourcing was acceptable. This is not like the passport backlog or passport flap where lots of folks were up in arms but a call for transparency here is still relevant.

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