Government officials assigned to oversee a contract used to provide interrogators at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq all but abdicated their responsibility, leaving it to the private contractor to set terms for its work, according to a congressional report released yesterday.
The result, the inquiry found, was multiple "breakdowns," with contractors from Arlington-based CACI International Inc. performing jobs that went far beyond the initial contract terms and the government having no effective way of monitoring performance or controlling costs.
Because U.S. officials "did not fully carry out their roles and responsibilities, the contractor was allowed to play a role in the procurement process normally performed by the government," the report's authors concluded. This in turn "creates a conflict of interest and undermines the integrity of the competitive contracting process," the report said.
For example, the report by the Government Accountability Office found that CACI officials drafted the statements of work that dictated which jobs company workers would perform; at least one such statement was written on CACI letterhead. The GAO also said the contractor's employees drafted an explanation and approval for giving the company more work without competitive bidding. Normally those tasks are reserved for government officials.
Yesterday's report by Congress's investigative arm did not delve specifically into the abuse of Iraqi prisoners at Abu Ghraib but looked at how interrogators working for private firms wound up at the prison in the first place.
Contractors from CACI -- which supplied the military with interrogators -- and Titan Corp. of San Diego -- which provided interpreters -- were implicated in the abuses by Army investigators. Numerous soldiers have been court-martialed for their roles in the scandal, but no contractor has been charged. The names of six contractors were forwarded to the U.S. attorney's office in Alexandria for investigation last summer.
A CACI spokeswoman took issue with the GAO's conclusions, saying they did not account for the urgent environment in which CACI workers served. "The Army wanted to give American soldiers the intelligence information they needed to win the war in Iraq with the fewest possible casualties, military and civilian," CACI spokeswoman Jody A. Brown said in a written statement. "CACI acted in good faith in honoring the Army's request for help. We proudly stand by our decision."
Although the work at Abu Ghraib was requested by the Defense Department, the contract was managed by the Interior Department through a growing practice in which government agencies administer each other's contracts for a fee. The GAO recently identified such contracts as a "high-risk area" for the government.
To get the Pentagon the services it wanted, Interior officials used an existing contract with CACI for information technology services to write 11 "task orders," valued at more than $66 million. Later government investigations found that 10 of those orders went beyond the scope of the original contract.
The original contract, for example, called for work under such categories as "senior analyst" and "senior functional analyst." When the work was actually done, however, those categories evolved into "senior counterintelligence agent," and "interrogator."
In CACI 's response to the report, the company disputed claims that its work was beyond the scope of the contract, saying those charges ignore "the importance of IT in the performance of intelligence support work, including interrogation."
Officials from Interior and Defense did not keep adequate watch on CACI's work, the GAO found. Contacting offices were understaffed, and the employees lacked basic training: "For example," the report said, "they did not know that they were required to monitor and verify the hours worked by the contractor and instead just signed off on the invoices provided by the contractor."
The Defense and Interior departments said in written responses that they generally agreed with the report's findings and are working to solve the problems.
Although the Interior interrogation contracts were terminated, the Army continues to use CACI for intelligence and logistics services without taking bids from others, the GAO said. The Army says it intends to competitively award the work in the future.
Daniel Guttman, a fellow at Johns Hopkins University and a government contracting expert, said the report shows CACI was dictating a process under which it performed work that it should have known was well beyond the bounds of its IT contract. "When you deal with the government, you turn square corners. You don't fool around," Guttman said.
Rep. David E. Price (D-N.C.) introduced legislation on Thursday that he said would bring greater accountability to the procurement process by requiring more information on costs and contractors. Price said the GAO's report underscores the need for reform. "It's a very alarming report," he said. "It tells us that the contracting process is not working as it should from start to finish."
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