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Audit of Army Contracting Command–Afghanistan’s Award and Administration of Contracts (DODIG-2020-094)

Audit

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Publicly Released: June 22, 2020

Objective

The objective of this audit was to determine whether the Army Contracting Command–Afghanistan awarded and administered contracts in accordance with applicable Federal regulations and Army Contracting Command procedures.

Background

Since 2015, the Army Contracting Command (ACC) has maintained a presence in Afghanistan in an effort to ensure that U.S. forces receive contracting services in support of Operations Freedom’s Sentinel and Resolute Support. As of January 2020, the Army Contracting Command–Afghanistan (ACC‑A) managed a contract portfolio valued at approximately $20 billion.

Twenty‑five reports by the DoD Office of Inspector General (OIG), Army Audit Agency, and Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction, along with congressional and DoD commissions, have identified significant challenges and ongoing risks in military contracting in overseas contingency operations. The most common deficiencies in contingency contracting identified in these reports were nonperformance and improper payments. Nonperformance occurs when contractors do not provide goods or services in compliance with contractual requirements. Improper payments include instances when contractors are paid more than is justified or stipulated for the goods and services they provided.

The DoD OIG and Army Audit Agency reports also identified significant performance concerns related to the surveillance of Government property, including both property furnished to contractors by the Government, and property acquired by contractors that is turned over to the Government at the end of a contract.

To determine whether the ACC‑A awarded and administered contracts in accordance with applicable Federal regulations and ACC procedures designed to mitigate these common contracting risks, we reviewed a nonstatistical sample of contracts awarded or administered by the ACC‑A between January 1, 2016, and December 31, 2018, for compliance with the Federal Acquisition Regulation, its supplements, and ACC procedures. We also interviewed officials at both the ACC‑A and Army Contracting Command–Headquarters (ACC‑HQ) to determine the causes of noncompliance.

Finding

The ACC‑A did not award and administer any of the 15 contracts in our sample in accordance with applicable Federal regulations and ACC procedures. For example, the ACC‑A did not:

• retain finalized purchase requests indicating the requiring activity had obligated the necessary funds to pay for the contract for 6 of 10 contracts awarded by the ACC‑A;

• complete required documentation to justify the award of 2 of 5 contracts awarded under the Afghan First Initiative;

• follow ACC‑A procedures for 4 of 5 contracts containing nonconformance reports (NCR), which required that corrective action plans be submitted and accepted before closing out the NCR; or

• track the status of Government property required to be turned over to the Government for all 3 contracts that contained Government property.

In addition, we determined that ACC‑A contracting officials did not have the required knowledge, training, or experience needed to award and administer contracts in accordance with regulations and procedures. We also found that ACC‑A contracting officials could not always access the Army’s contract award and administration systems to perform their duties, resulting in missed deadlines for mission‑critical functions.

These conditions occurred because:

• the ACC‑HQ had not implemented an organizational document, known as a force structure, for the ACC‑A that detailed required staffing levels, positions, roles, and qualifications of ACC‑A staff;

• the ACC‑A used an improvised hiring and training process, including inconsistent hiring timelines, onboarding materials, and training to communicate procedural requirements to ACC‑A contracting officials; and

• the ACC‑A’s operations in Afghanistan subjected contracting officials to unreliable network conditions, including extended periods of Internet outage, slow connection speeds, and limited technical support.

As a result, the ACC‑A deployed contracting officials to Afghanistan with limited knowledge and experience of contingency contracting requirements and tasked them with using electronic recordkeeping and contract management systems that were not reliably accessible. Therefore, the ACC‑A did not have reasonable assurance that it successfully mitigated contracting risks, such as nonperformance, improper payments, and mismanagement of Government property.

Recommendations

We recommend that the ACC Commanding General identify and coordinate with required theater officials to develop and implement a force structure or similar manpower authorization document for the ACC‑A that identifies the staffing levels, positions, roles, and responsibilities of ACC‑A personnel.

We recommend that the ACC‑A Commander develop and implement a plan to improve the hiring process for civilian contracting personnel. The plan should include:

• written hiring procedures that specify a timeline for the hiring process;

• controls to ensure all contracting officials have the required qualifications for the positions they hold;

• steps to ensure duties of the ACC‑A human resources position are performed if the position is vacant; and

• standard operating procedures to provide newly hired contracting officials with information on their specific roles and responsibilities prior to deployment.

We recommend that the Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Army for Procurement develop and implement a written plan to:

• engage the ACC‑HQ in developing and testing the new Army Contract Writing System (ACWS) to ensure the new system provides contingency contracting personnel with the capabilities necessary to effectively award and administer contracts in a contingency environment, such as Afghanistan; and

• provide contracting officials access to the ACWS in the field for testing before the system achieves full operational capability and for identifying any potential issues or challenges unique to the contingency operating environment, including the ability to operate the system effectively under unreliable network conditions.

Management Comments and Our Response

The ACC Commanding General disagreed with the recommendation that the ACC develop and implement a force structure or similar manpower authorization document for the ACC‑A. The Commanding General stated that the recommendation should not be directed to the ACC because the theater command (United States Forces – Afghanistan) was responsible for developing the force structure applicable to the ACC‑A. We disagree with this assessment, but in response to the Commanding General’s comments, we have revised the recommendation to clarify the responsibilities of the Commanding General to identify and coordinate with theater officials to develop and implement a force structure or similar manpower organizational document for the ACC‑A. Comments from the Commanding General did not address the specifics of our recommendation because the ACC, as the chain of command for the ACC‑A, is responsible for developing and implementing a force structure or similar manpower organizational document; therefore, the recommendation is unresolved and remains open.

The ACC Commanding General, responding on behalf of the ACC‑A Commander, disagreed with the recommendation to establish a timeline for the ACC‑A hiring process and to take steps to ensure that the duties of the ACC‑A human resources position are performed when the position is vacant. The Commanding General stated that it was difficult to establish a timeline for hiring processes because individuals may curtail their deployment at any time. The Commanding General also stated that the ACC already provided human resources support if the ACC‑A human resources position was vacant.

Comments from the Commanding General did not address the specifics of our recommendations because other commands operating under similar conditions to the ACC‑A have been able to establish timelines for hiring procedures and we found that human resource support, such as the identification of replacements for outgoing contracting officials, was not performed; therefore, the recommendation is unresolved and remains open.

The ACC Commanding General, responding on behalf of the ACC‑A Commander, agreed with the recommendation to implement controls to ensure all contracting officials have the required qualifications for the positions they hold. The Commanding General stated that all personnel hired for contracting positions must provide a copy of their contracting certifications prior to deployment. Comments from the Commanding General addressed the specifics of our recommendation; therefore, the recommendation is resolved, but remains open.

The Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Army for Procurement agreed with the recommendations to engage the ACC‑HQ in developing and testing the new ACWS during its development and to test the system in the field before it achieves full operational capability. The Deputy Assistant Secretary stated that his office would continue to collaborate with the ACWS Project Manager and ACC‑HQ in the design, development, and testing of the ACWS, including addressing disconnected state requirements of the system prior to its full deployment in FY2023. Furthermore, the Deputy Assistant Secretary stated that his office would coordinate with the ACWS Project Manager and ACC‑HQ to involve contingency contracting officials into the ACWS testing plan in FY2021. Therefore, these recommendations are resolved, but will remain open.

Although not required to comment, the Executive Deputy to the Commanding General for the Army Materiel Command reviewed the report and supported the response of the ACC Commanding General while sharing the DoD OIG’s concerns regarding the effectiveness of contracting operations in Afghanistan.

This report is the result of Proj. No. D2019‑D000RH‑0082.000