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Gov’t Watchdog Criticizes Pentagon Center for PTSD, Brain Injuries

Posted by defensebaseactcomp on July 11, 2011

By T Christian Miller and Joaquim Sapien at ProPublica  July 11, 2011

If you want more explanation about the military’s troubles in treating troops with traumatic brain injuries and post-traumatic stress, read no further than two recent but largely unnoticed reports from the Government Accountability Office.

It turns out the Pentagon’s solution to the problems is an organization plagued by weak leadership, uncertain priorities and a money trail so tangled that even the GAO’s investigators couldn’t sort it out. The GAO findings on the Pentagon’s Defense Centers of Excellence (DCOE) echo our own series [1] on the military’s difficulty in handling the so-called invisible wounds of war.

“We have an organization that exists, but we have considerable concern about what it is that it’s actually accomplishing,” said Denise Fantone, a GAO director who supervised research on one of the reports. She added: “I can’t say with any certainty that I know what DCOE does, and I think that’s a concern.”

First, some background. After the 2007 scandal over poor care delivered to soldiers at the Walter Reed Army Medical Center, Congress ordered the Pentagon to do a better job treating soldiers suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injury. The Pentagon’s answer was to create DCOE [2]. The new organization was supposed to be a clearinghouse to foster cutting-edge research in treatments.

DCOE was rushed into existence in late 2007. Since then, it has churned through three leaders, including one let go after alleged sexual harassment of subordinates [3]. It takes more than five months to hire each employee because of the federal government’s glacial process. As a result, private contractors make up much of the center’s staff.

“DCOE’s development has been challenged by a mission that lacks clarity and by time-consuming hiring processes,” according to the first report in the GAO series [4], focusing on “management weakness” at DCOE.

Just as concerning, the GAO says that it can’t quite figure out how much money DCOE has received or where it has all gone. DCOE has never submitted a budget document that fully conformed to typical federal standards, according to a GAO report released last month [5]. In one year, the center simply turned in a spreadsheet without detailed explanations

Please read the entire article at ProPublica

Posted in Department of Defense, Political Watch, PTSD and TBI, T Christian Miller | Tagged: , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

The Uncounted Contractors or See SPOT Run

Posted by defensebaseactcomp on October 5, 2010

By David Isenberg at  Huffington Post

Okay, just how long is it going to take for the U.S. government to get an accurate count of the private military and security contractors it employs in Iraq and Afghanistan?

Apparently, not any time soon, according to the Government Accounting Office report released last Friday. The report “DOD, State, and USAID Face Continued Challenges in Tracking Contracts, Assistance Instruments, and Associated Personnel,” was GAO’s third assessment of the implementation of the Synchronized Predeployment and Operational Tracker (SPOT) and data reported by the three agencies for Afghanistan and Iraq for FY 2009 and the first half of FY 2010 on the (1) number of contractor and assistance personnel, including those providing security; (2) number of personnel killed or wounded; and (3) number and value of contracts and assistance instruments and extent of competition for new awards.

What GAO found was that:

While the three agencies designated SPOT as their system for tracking statutorily required information in July 2008, SPOT still cannot reliably track information on contracts, assistance instruments, and associated personnel in Iraq or Afghanistan. As a result, the agencies relied on sources of data other than SPOT to respond to our requests for information. The agencies’ implementation of SPOT has been affected by some practical and technical issues, but their efforts also were undermined by a lack of agreement on how to proceed, particularly on how to track local nationals working under contracts or assistance instruments. The lack of agreement was due in part to agencies not having assessed their respective information needs and how SPOT can be designed to address those needs and statutory requirements. In 2009, GAO reported on many of these issues and recommended that the agencies jointly develop a plan to improve SPOT’s implementation.
The three agencies reported to GAO that as of March 2010 there were 262,681 contractor and assistance personnel working in Iraq and Afghanistan, 18 percent of whom performed security functions. Due to limitations with agency-reported data, caution should be used in identifying trends or drawing conclusions about the number of personnel in either country. Data limitations are attributable to agency difficulty in determining the number of local nationals, low response rates to agency requests for data, and limited ability to verify the accuracy of reported data. For example, a State office noted that none of its Afghan grant recipients provided requested personnel data. While agency officials acknowledged not all personnel were being counted, they still considered the reported data to be more accurate than SPOT data.

Only State and USAID tracked information on the number of contractor and assistance personnel killed or wounded in Iraq and Afghanistan during the review period. State reported 9 contractor and assistance personnel were killed and 68 wounded, while USAID reported 116 killed and 121 wounded. Both agencies noted that some casualties resulted from nonhostile actions. DOD still lacked a system to track similar information and referred GAO to Department of Labor data on cases filed under the Defense Base Act for killed or injured contractors. As GAO previously reported, Labor’s data provide insights but are not a good proxy for the number of contractor casualties.

DOD, State, and USAID obligated $37.5 billion on 133,951 contracts and assistance instruments with performance in Iraq and Afghanistan during FY2009 and the first half of FY2010. DOD had the vast majority of contract obligations. Most of the contracts were awarded during the review period and used competitive procedures. State and USAID relied heavily on grants and cooperative agreements and reported that most were competitively awarded.

While, doubtlessly, DOD, State, AND USAID are doing the best they can to make SPOT work some issues are likely to prove difficult to solve.

You’ll want to read the entire post here

Posted in Afghanistan, Civilian Contractors, Contractor Casualties and Missing, Department of Labor, State Department | Tagged: , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Civilian Contractors Toll in Iraq and Afghanistan Ignored by Defense Department

Posted by defensebaseactcomp on October 9, 2009

Civilian Contractor Toll in Iraq and Afghanistan Ignored by Defense Dept.

by T. Christian Miller, ProPublica – October 9, 2009afghanistan-2007-contractorbombed_gt20091009

An Afghan policeman walks past a vehicle that had carried U.S. civilian contractors, after it was targeted by a suicide bomber in the Logar province. (Farzana Wahidy/AFP/Getty Images/January 2007 file photo)

As the war in Afghanistan entered its ninth year, the Labor Department recently released new figures [1] for the number of civilian contract workers who have died in war zones since 9/11. Although acknowledged as incomplete, the figures show that at least 1,688 civilians have died and more than 37,000 have reported injuries while working for U.S. contractors in Iraq and Afghanistan.

More than 5,200 soldiers have died in the two war zones, meaning that one civilian contractor has died for every three soldiers — a ratio that reflects the unprecedented degree to which the Pentagon has outsourced the work of war. Civilian contractors make up [2] about half the total U.S. forces in the war zones and they have been deployed on the front lines far more than any previous U.S. conflict [3]. Iraq and Afghanistan are the most outsourced wars in U.S. history.

Despite the importance of civilian contractors to its mission, the Defense Department hasn’t been measuring their sacrifice. A little-noticed report [4] from the Government Accountability Office last week noted that the Pentagon has yet to implement a Congressional requirement to track contractor fatalities.

Military officials brushed off inquiries from the GAO, telling the agency that they “continue to lack a system to reliably track killed or wounded contractor personnel.” To get a handle on the issue, the GAO examined a sample of files from the Labor Department, which oversees a workers compensation program required by a federal law known as the Defense Base Act. The act requires contract firms to purchase insurance to cover civilians injured or killed while working abroad on federal contracts.

While the system is not designed to track war injuries, investigators determined that about 11 percent of reported contractor casualties stem from combat — about the same percentage of soldier casualties attributed to hostile action, according to an April 2007 report [5] by the Veterans Affairs Department. For both groups, most injuries are due to vehicle collisions, muscle or back strains or common, everyday accidents.

The Department of Defense is not alone in ignoring its hired help. Neither the State Department nor USAID could tell with certainty how many contractors they employed, the GAO found. USAID, for instance, failed to report how many civilians it had put to work under a $91 million contract to develop hydroelectric plants and small and medium businesses in Afghanistan. A State Department contracting officer insisted that there was no need to track local Iraqi hires, despite specific statutory language to the contrary, the report found. “Officials acknowledged that they are likely undercounting the actual number of contractors working in Iraq and Afghanistan,” the GAO concluded. State, USAID and DOD officials all told the GAO that they were working to fix the problem.

What it all means is that nine years after the launch of the most contractor-intensive war in U.S. history, nobody is sure how many contractors there are, what they are doing, or how many have been killed or wounded.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments »

GAO Contingency Contracting Report October 2009

Posted by defensebaseactcomp on October 2, 2009

DOD, State, and USAID Continue to Face Challenges in Tracking Contractor Personnel and Contracts in Iraq and Afghanistan

What GAO found

In response to a statutory requirement to increase contractor oversight, DOD,
State, and USAID agreed to use the Synchronized Predeployment and
Operational Tracker (SPOT) system to track information on contracts and
contractor personnel in Iraq and Afghanistan. With the exception of USAID in
Afghanistan, the agencies are in the process of implementing the system and
require contractor personnel in both countries to be entered into SPOT.
However, the agencies use differing criteria to decide which personnel are
entered, resulting in some personnel not being entered into the system as
required. Some agency officials also questioned the need to track detailed
information on all contractor personnel, particularly local nationals. Further,
SPOT currently lacks the capability to track all required data elements, such
as contract dollar value and the number of personnel killed and wounded. As
a result, the agencies rely on other sources for contract and contractor
personnel information, such as periodic surveys of contractors.
DOD, State, and USAID reported nearly 226,500 contractor personnel,
including about 28,000 performing security functions, in Iraq and Afghanistan,
as of the second quarter of FY 2009. However due to their limitations, the
reported data should not be used to identify trends or draw conclusions about
contractor personnel numbers. Specifically, we found that the data reported
by the three agencies were incomplete. For example, in one quarterly
contractor survey DOD did not include 26,000 personnel in Afghanistan, and
USAID did not provide personnel data for a $91 million contract. The agencies
depend on contractors to report personnel numbers and acknowledge that
they cannot validate the reported information.
USAID and State reported that 64 of their contractors had been killed and
159 wounded in Iraq and Afghanistan during our review period. DOD officials
told us they continue to lack a system to reliably track killed or wounded
contractor personnel and referred us to the Department of Labor’s Defense
Base Act (DBA) case data for this information. However, because DBA is a
worker’s compensation program, Labor’s data include cases such as those
resulting from occupational injuries and do not provide an appropriate basis
for determining how many contractor personnel were killed or wounded
while working on DOD, State, or USAID contracts in Iraq or Afghanistan.
Nevertheless, the data provide insights into contractor casualties. According
to Labor, 11,804 DBA cases were filed for contractors killed or injured in Iraq
and Afghanistan during our review period, including 218 deaths. Based on our
review of 150 randomly selected cases, we estimate that 11 percent of all
FY 2008 DBA cases for the two countries resulted from hostile actions.

Full Report here

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged: , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

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