Last September, the antics of ArmorGroup North America's vodka-butt-shot-taking Kabul embassy guards caused more than a diplomatic embarrassment. The resulting scandal's propaganda and terrorist recruitment potential has been likened to that of Abu Ghraib, and it may have played a role in undermining counterinsurgency objectives in Afghanistan. The episode also exposed deep flaws in the State Department's oversight of the contractors on its payroll, and now the agency has a curious plan to prevent another Embassy-gate. It entails hiring another contractor, this one to police its embassy contractors.
Eric Boswell, the Assistant Secretary of State for Diplomatic Security, described this plan recently in written responses to questions posed by Sen. Claire McCaskill following a hearing last December. Asked about the "options for improved oversight of private security contractors and contracts" his office was considering, Boswell wrote [PDF]:
As a result of the Diplomatic Security (DS) investigation into the allegations of misconduct, DS temporarily assigned a DS Special Agent to reside at Camp Sullivan, where the AGNA guards reside, to augment the Regional Security Officer’s (RSO’s) contract oversight efforts in Kabul. As part of the long term solution, DS has conducted interviews and is now in the selection and hiring process for a personal service contractor (i.e., an employee engaged directly by the government rather than a third-party contractor) who will reside at Camp Sullivan and further augment the RSO’s contract oversight responsibilities.
The notion of partially outsourcing oversight certainly raised eyebrows in McCaskill's office. Last Friday, she wrote [PDF] Boswell expressing concern "that the steps taken by the Department may not go far enough to ensure that there is sufficient transparency, accountability, and oversight of the contract. In particular, I'm troubled by the decision to employ a contractor to provide contract oversight for the Department."
However counterintuitive, the outsourced oversight model has already been used to a degree by the Pentagon in both Afghanistan and Iraq. For instance, Aegis was awarded a contract to run the Armed Contractor Oversight Directorate in Afghanistan. And DoD brought in a firm called Serco to oversee aspects of a massive KBR logistics contract in Iraq. But if the government is turning to contractors to oversee contractors, who's overseeing them?