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3rd September 2009 Charles J. Brown
04:31 pm

It’s Easier to Penalize Coup Plotters than USG Contractors

Secretary of State Clinton announced today that the United States is terminating existing foreign assistance to Honduras:

After Secretary of State Hillary Clinton met with Honduras’ ousted President Manuel Zelaya today, the State Department announced that Clinton has decided to terminate U.S. assistance to Honduras. Clinton had previously suspended U.S. assistance to the Central American state in the wake of the June 28 coup.

Negotiations led by Costan Rican President Oscar Arias under the auspices of the Organization of American States broke down last month, after Honduras’ de facto leader Roberto Michelleti rejected efforts to allow Zelaya to return to power before Honduras’ November elections.

According to Reuters, Honduras receives $18 million in direct foreign assistance and another $135 million from the Millennium Challenge Corporation. Via twitter today (the transcript isn’t available yet), Dipnote, the Department’s blog, is reporting that State Department spokesman Ian Kelly just announced that the USG has “formally terminated” nearly $30 million of the $153 million.

Meanwhile, State Department spokesman Ian Kelly acknowledged yesterday that the Armor Group, the contractor responsible for providing jello shots to maintaining security at the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad, has a four-year contract worth $189 million per year.  And at the moment, the Department does not have the ability to cancel the contract without first undertaking an investigation:

QUESTION: Can you say when they were sent?

MR. KELLY: Starting in June 2007, all the way through April 30, 2008, and then actually there was a ninth, and this was the most serious one. It’s called a show cause notice. A decision to issue a show cause notice is a serious matter and was not taken lightly. The issuance of a show cause notice was necessary due to repeated staffing shortages, which had been brought to the attention of the contracting officer. The show cause notice was the first step towards considering termination of the contract and was carefully considered by all concerned parties.

QUESTION: When was that?

MR. KELLY: This was September 21st, 2008.

QUESTION: So this contract, you said, was signed originally in March?

MR. KELLY: 2007.

QUESTION: March of 2007. But the first – and so March, April, May, so three months into the contract you sent the first deficiency notice?

MR. KELLY: Yeah. It’s a – I mean, Kabul is a very challenging environment. There are very serious challenges for recruitment and logistical challenges.

QUESTION: So the last letter that was sent to them was that ninth, the show cause letter?

MR. KELLY: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: And they responded to that?

MR. KELLY: They did respond to that. That was about –

QUESTION: And they corrected the deficiencies that were –

MR. KELLY: And they corrected the deficiencies. It was a staffing issue.QUESTION: Ian, is it fair to say that you put up with all of these deficiencies because you really had no other alternative? I mean, was there another option available to the State Department for the specific functions that ArmorGroup was providing?

MR. KELLY: Well, there are other options. There – I mean, obviously, we cannot just terminate any contract anywhere for any embassy because we cannot have our embassies go unprotected. So this – I mean, there is an issue where you have to, obviously, transition to another arrangement. And of course, the universe of kind of organizations that can provide this kind of very challenging – provide this kind of security in a very challenging environment is not a very big universe, obviously.

Clearly State got caught with their pants down here (okay, perhaps that wasn’t the most appropriate metaphor), and I’m confident that Secretary Clinton will make damn sure that this gets resolved quickly.  But you have to wonder whether the Department’s bureaucratic apparatus will be able to to terminate the Armor Group’s contract in less time than it took to end aid to Honduras.

Yes there are differences in the laws covering contracts and foreign assistance (the USG can move far more quickly on the latter than the former).  And yes, State can’t just fire Armor Group without finding a replacement to provide security in Kabul — after all, as Kelly himself acknowledged later in the same briefing, they’ve had to delay the replacement of Blackwater Xe, which is providing similar services in Iraq, because DynCorp, the new contractor, isn’t ready to take over.

But if State does choose to revoke the contract (and I presume that they will) I hope that it will take less than the 68 days.

And while we’re at it, can we try to fix a system where an relatively impoverished Central American country gets less from the United States than a security provider?

This entry was posted on Thursday, September 3rd, 2009 at 4:31 pm and is filed under American foreign policy, politics, world events. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

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