Monday, February 7, 2011

And you're wondering why the State Dept does a reeeally poor job overseeing contracts? Please Read Exhibit A

State/OIG visited the housing for embassy janitors in Abu Dhabi, U.A.E..  The embassy contractor there showed the IG team housing that had been converted from office space and appeared to violate safety codes for fire prevention.  Workers bunk 8-10 people in 12x18 foot rooms. Four bathrooms on each floor are locked for supervisors’ exclusive use. In total, there are 15-20 toilets and 15-20 washing facilities for a camp of over 450 people.

The team was also shown kitchen facilities that consist of an open shed with approximately 100 gas burn­ers lining the walls. No refrigerators were observed. Figure 6 shows the kitchen at accommodations purported by the contractor to be occupied by janitors.

The OIG team later learned that Embassy Abu Dhabi’s janitors did not actually live at the facil­ity presented by the contractor at the time of the site visit. As a result, OIG and the GSO made a second, unannounced site inspection to nearby apartment blocks with unsafe and unsanitary kitchens and bathrooms. The GSO in Abu Dhabi followed up with the contractor to ensure that workers were transferred to satisfactory accom­modations as soon as possible. Below is a photo of the kitchen at the actual janitors’ accommodations in Abu Dhabi, U.A.E.provided by the Embassy contractor.

That bit of misrepresentation is probably not going to get any write-up because it's not like its written in the contract that they should show the IG what's real ...

Holy mother of goat and all her nutty nephews!

The inspection above is part of the six contracts for janito­rial, gardening, and local guard services examined by the OIG in determining: (1) whether State Department-funded contractors or subcontractors are engaged, knowingly or unknowingly, in acts related to trafficking in persons; and (2) whether U.S. embassies are following Federal guidelines to effectively monitor Department-funded contractors and subcontractors for engagement in acts related to the Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000 (TVPA).  Field work was conducted from January to March 2010 at four embassies in Kuwait, Oman, Saudi Arabia, and the U.A.E., and at two consulates general in Saudi Arabia and the U.A.E.

Here's the good news, sort of:

"OIG found no direct evidence that contractors violated the provisions of the Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000 (TVPA) or the FAR mandatory clause 52.222-50 (Combating Trafficking in Persons) for the six contracts evaluated at U.S. missions in Kuwait, Oman, Saudi Arabia, and the U.A.E. OIG found no evidence that contractors were engaged in sex trafficking or illicit activities related to invol­untary servitude, peonage, debt bondage, or slavery as defined by U.S. law.6 All 75 workers interviewed stated they came to the host country voluntarily and were not in direct bondage to their employer through force, fraud, or coercion. However, using ILO indicators for trafficking, OIG found several contractor practices that increase the risk of TIP. These practices include coercion at recruitment and destination (through debt bondage and confiscation of documents), exploitative conditions of work (including payment and wage issues and bad living conditions), and abuse of vulnerability (including abuse of lack of education and lack of information)."
The not so good news?
OIG found housing problems at all six missions. Workers’ housing facilities range from shared apartments with common areas to labor camps in converted commercial lots. Contractors maintain these facilities with varying degrees of adherence to safety and sanitation standards for residential dwellings. More than 70 percent of foreign contract workers live in overcrowded, unsafe, or unsanitary conditions, particularly in Saudi Arabia and the U.A.E. Moreover, only female workers and supervisors with family in the host country are able to choose their housing. \
In all four countries, workers had limited personal space, ranging from 24 square feet for the janitors in Abu Dhabi to 68 square feet for the local guards in Dubai. To put the size of these living quarters in context, the Federal Bureau of Prisons (U.S. Department of Justice) allots between 45-60 square feet per individual detained in a federal minimum security prison. Two-thirds of the housing observed fell within the space parameters of a U.S. mini­mum security prison cell. Twenty foreign contract workers occupying the quarters OIG visited had less personal space than a U.S. minimum security prison cell.

Yes, they are not American citizens but these are the embassy's janito­rs, gardeners, and local guards.  Is it too much to ask that they be treated decently by their employers who are paid quite a chunk by USG taxpayers money? And mind you, these are not mom and pops small business contractors.

Despite almost three years covering Foggy Bottom and the "worldwide available universe," we are still shocked reading the non-response from the State Department's Office of the Procurement Executive in the Bureau of Administration.  The A/OPE response was sent under Corey Rindner's name. Here is what the OIG says after taking into account Mr. Rindner's response: 
A/OPE stated it was concerned that contractors would rely on missions to interpret local laws on passport retention, and that it is beyond the current capabilities of CORs to identify host country labor laws and monitor contractor compliance. The intention of recommendations 1 and 2 is to ensure missions are fully cognizant of host country regulations and labor laws. OIG determined during the course of field work that embassy officials’ lack of knowl­edge of these laws increase the risk that employees servicing U.S. overseas missions may be victims of TIP. OIG does not view obtaining this information as burdensome or beyond the capabilities of CORs, especially since embassy political and economic officers at the missions visited were already collecting this information. Therefore, OIG believes both recommendations 1 and 2 have merit and are retained.
Finally, A/OPE did not concur with recommendations 5, 6, and 7 stating there is no legal basis to prescribe a supplemental clause enforcing a statutory socioeconomic requirement that is already covered by a mandatory FAR clause. During the course of OIG’s evaluation, officials at all of the missions requested assistance from the Depart­ment on how to monitor for TIP violations, as well as information from other mis­sions on best practices shown to be effective in detecting and preventing TIP. OIG finds A/OPE’s response to recommendations 5, 6, and 7 unclear and unresponsive.

It should be noted that A/OPE did not concur with any of the OIG recommendations.

Are Mr. Rindner and the good folks at "A/OPE" really washing their hands on this?  Um, excuse us, how can we possibly think that?  They are simply citing the Department's legal counsel advise that "A/OPE has no legal basis to prescribe a supple­mental clause enforcing a statutory socioeconomic requirement."

That by the way is Mr. Rindner's response to the OIG recommendation that "contractors provide workers with standard contracts in English and their native language that include policies on wages, overtime rates, allowances, salary increases, the contract term, leave accrual, and other personnel matters."

How hard is that to do, really?

Oh, look, the State Department's visa sections even distribute a pamphlet on the rights and protections of temporary workers in the US.

Mr. Rindner also says in his response that "Department of State contracts require contractors to comply with local laws and regulations" and in another response points out that "monitoring methods and resources are limited."

Okay, just how limited are we talking about here? From zero to nothing?

Can't we just call these "self-monitoring contractors" in simple English and save us all from the embarrassment and agony of pretense?

It should be in the best interest of the State Department that it's house is
Squeky clean when it comes to the labor and hiring practices of its contractors at its foreign missions. After all, just like employees, contractors reflect favorably or unfavorably on the hiring agency. Surely no one has forgotten the Kabul guards that quickly?

And by the way, if there is no legal basis for this, how about we try for the humane?

Related item:

OIG Report No. MERO-I-11-06 - Performance Evaluation of Dept. of State Contracts to Assess Risk of TIP Violations in Gulf States - Jan. 2011

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