When salacious details emerge about run-amok contractors, it’s easy to lose sight of the big picture—the reason why these scandals keep happening and happening and happening. So what’s the big picture, you ask? Great question. Let me tell you. In military parlance, oversight is FUBAR. (If you don’t know what that means, look it up.) And the Paravant/Blackwater scandal I’ve been reporting on for the past few days is a perfect case study in what happens when oversight goes AWOL. Yes, the firm’s personnel acted recklessly and knowingly violated military regulations—even the company acknowledges that—but no one bothered to stop them, to enforce the rules in place. As an investigation by Sen. Carl Levin’s armed services committee documents, there was mass confusion about who was actually responsible for monitoring Paravant on the ground.
Ultimately Paravant had a contract with Raytheon. Raytheon had a contract with the Army’s Program Executive Office for Simulation, Training, and Instrumentation. PEO STRI, headquartered in Orlando, Florida and without a rep on the ground, says it relied on a Dutch military officer attached to NATO’s Combined Security Training Center-Afghanistan. That officer’s supervisor told Levin’s committee he had “no idea” why anyone would think this officer was responsible for Paravant—in fact, he knew of no one at CSTC-A who was. And things got even more ridiculous from there.
From Levin’s opening statement at yesterday’s hearing:
Emails from late April 2009 show that approximately six months into the contract, there was still confusion about oversight of Paravant personnel. When issues arose about a shortage of contractor personnel performing at one training site and concerns were raised as to whether they were performing up to U.S. Army standards, the Chief of the Afghan National Army Training & Education (CJ7) at CSTC-A said that Brian McCracken, who had recently moved from Paravant to Raytheon, would be responsible for monitoring Paravant and would be coordinating oversight of the contracts. Until his arrival in Afghanistan in late April 2009, no one from Raytheon had been stationed in country to monitor Paravant, apparently resulting in months of inadequate supervision.
To recap: The military thought a former Paravant and current Raytheon employee—and an individual at least partially responsible for Paravant’s rule-breaking in regards to weapons—was an appropriate source of oversight. It’s easy to pile on Blackwater, Paravant, Raytheon, and other wayward contractors. The hard part is figuring out once and for all how to fix the broken oversight system that has allowed contractor abuses to repeatedly undercut US foreign policy objectives.