Not “SPOT On” when it comes to tracking military contractors

The only things certain in life are, death, taxes, and misuse of military contractors. Not that there haven’t been efforts to deal with the third inevitability. And not that those efforts haven’t so far all gone down to defeat. But consider the recent efforts with SPOTting the contractors.

It will come as no surprise to unbossed readers that the military has relied extensively on contractors in Iraq and Afghanistan. And it will also come as no surprise that there have been problems with contractor performance and even keeping track of the number and use of contractors.

In order to deal with this persistent problem, DOD, State, and USAID entered into a memorandum of understanding in July 2008 to track contractor information. The program is called the Synchronized Pre-Deployment and Operational Tracker database (SPOT) and is intended to track required information on contractors.

Here are GAO’s findings on how they see SPOT is doing.

Given DOD, State, and USAID’s extensive reliance on contractors to support and carry out their missions in Iraq and Afghanistan, the need for accurate and complete information on contracts and contractor personnel to inform decisions and oversee contractors is critical. We have reported extensively on the management and oversight challenges related to the use of contractors in support of contingency operations and the need for decision makers to have accurate, complete, and timely information as a starting point for addressing those challenges. Although much of our prior work has focused on DOD, the lessons learned can be applied to other agencies relying on contractors to help carry out their missions. The agencies’ lack of complete and accurate information on contractors supporting contingency operations inhibits officials and commanders from developing a complete picture of the extent to which they rely on contractors, the tasks contractors are performing, and the government’s spending on contractors. These limitations may inhibit planning, increase costs, and introduce unnecessary risk, as illustrated in the following examples:

• Limited visibility over contractors obscures the extent to which agencies rely on contractors to support operations and help carry out missions. In our 2006 review of DOD contractors supporting deployed forces, we reported that a battalion commander in Iraq was unable to determine the number of contractor-provided interpreters available to support his unit. Such a lack of visibility can create challenges for planning and carrying out missions. Further, knowledge of who is on their installation, including contractor personnel, helps commanders make informed decisions regarding force protection and account for all individuals in the event of hostile action.

• A lack of accurate financial information on contracts impedes agencies’ ability to create realistic budgets. As we reported in July 2005, despite the significant role played by private security providers in enabling Iraqi reconstruction efforts, neither State, DOD, nor USAID had complete data on the costs associated with using private security providers. As a result, agency officials acknowledged that security costs had diverted planned reconstruction resources and led to a reduction in scope or cancellation of certain reconstruction projects, including a USAID power generation-related contract in which the agency cut $15 million from two projects to cover security costs at another.

• Lack of insight into the contract services being performed increases the risk of paying for duplicative services. In the Balkans, where billions of dollars were spent for contractor support, we found in 2002 that DOD did not have an overview of all contracts awarded in support operations. Until an overview of all contractor activity was obtained, no one in DOD knew what the contractors had been contracted to do and whether there was duplication of effort among the contracts that had been awarded.

• Costs can increase due to a lack of visibility over where contractors are deployed and what government support they are entitled to. In our December 2006 review of DOD’s use of contractors in Iraq, an Army official estimated that about $43 million was lost each year to free meals provided to contractor employees at deployed locations who also received a per diem food allowance.

And so it goes.

See SPOT run! Run SPOT Run! Or don’t.

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