Operational Contract Support:

Management and Oversight Improvements Needed in Afghanistan

GAO-12-290: Published: Mar 29, 2012. Publicly Released: Mar 29, 2012.

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What GAO Found

The Department of Defense (DOD) has taken steps to enhance its existing training program for contracting officer’s representatives (CORs), but the required training does not fully prepare them to perform their contract oversight duties in contingency areas such as Afghanistan. DOD requires that CORs be qualified by training and experience commensurate with the responsibilities to be delegated to them. DOD took several actions to enhance its training program, such as developing a CORs training course with a focus on contingency operations. However, GAO found that CORs are not prepared to oversee contracts because the required training does not include specifics on how to complete written statements of work and how to operate in Afghanistan’s unique contracting environment. For example, DOD contracting personnel told GAO about opening delays and additional expenses related to the construction of a dining facility, which was originally constructed without a kitchen because it was not included in the original statement of work. In some cases, contract-specific training was not provided at all. In addition, not all oversight personnel such as commanders and senior leaders receive training to perform contract oversight and management duties in Afghanistan because such training is not required of them. Because DOD’s required training does not prepare CORs and other oversight personnel to oversee contracts, units cannot be assured that they receive what they paid for.

CORs do not always have the necessary subject area-related technical expertise to oversee U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) contracts they were assigned to. Contracting officials noted, for example, that the staircases on guard towers at a forward operating base were poorly constructed and unsafe to climb. The COR assigned to that contract had inadequate subject area-related technical expertise, preventing the early identification of the defective welding on the staircases. According to contracting officials, situations like this often occurred due to the shortage of CORs with expertise in construction. Also, at the time of GAO’s field work, CORs for contracts written by CENTCOM contracting officers did not have access to subject matter experts, particularly those with construction experience. According to contracting personnel, because CORs do not have the subject area-related technical expertise needed to oversee contracts or access to subject matter experts, facilities were sometimes deficient and had to be reconstructed at great additional expense to the taxpayer.

DOD does not have a sufficient number of CORs to oversee the numerous contracts in Afghanistan. CENTCOM requires CORs to be nominated for all service contracts over $2,500 that, unless exempted, require significant ongoing technical advice and surveillance from requirements personnel. However, there is no guidance on the number of contracts a single COR should oversee. According to contracting officials and CORs GAO interviewed in Afghanistan, some CORs were responsible for providing oversight to multiple contracts in addition to carrying out their primary military duty. For example, one COR GAO interviewed was assigned to more than a dozen construction projects. According to that COR, it was impossible to be at each construction site during key phases of the project because the projects were occurring almost simultaneously at different locations. Consequently, according to officials, in situations like these, construction was completed without sufficient government oversight and problems were sometimes identified after facilities had been completed.

Why GAO Did This Study

In fiscal year 2011, DOD reported obligating over $16 billion for contracts that were executed primarily in Afghanistan. GAO has previously identified the need for DOD to improve its oversight of contractors by non-acquisition personnel, such as CORs, and Congress has addressed this issue in legislation. CORs act as the liaisons between the contractor, the contracting officer, and the unit receiving support.

Following up on previous GAO work on this topic, GAO determined the extent to which (1) DOD’s required training prepares CORs to perform their contract management and oversight duties, (2) CORs have the subject area-related technical expertise needed to oversee contracts, and (3) the number of CORs is sufficient to oversee the contracts in Afghanistan. GAO conducted field work in Afghanistan and the United States and focused on the preparedness of CORs to manage and oversee contracts in the CENTCOM area of responsibility.

What GAO Recommends

GAO recommends that DOD enhance the current strategy for managing and overseeing contracts in contingency areas such as Afghanistan by, for example, developing training standards for providing operational contract support (OCS), fully institutionalizing OCS in professional military education, and developing standards regarding the number of contracts that CORs can oversee based on the technical nature and complexity of the contract. DOD concurred with all of GAO’s recommendations.

For more information, contact Cary B. Russell at (404) 679-1808 or russellc@gao.gov.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: DOD has closed this recommendation but the actions taken do not address our recommendations. The training available to CORs in Afghanistan has not been modified to address our concerns and continues to provide little or no information on topics such as the Afghan First program, developing a statement of work, or completing the documents required by the contract review boards.

    Recommendation: To provide for improved oversight of operational contract support, DOD should enhance the current strategy for providing contract management and oversight in Afghanistan and other areas of operations. Specifically, the Secretary of Defense should direct the CENTCOM Commander in consultation with the Secretaries of the military departments to develop standards for training to ensure that CORs are fully trained on the contract support in Afghanistan, to include information on the Afghan First program, Counterinsurgency Contracting Guidance, and details on the preparation of statements of work and documents required by the contract review boards.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

  2. Status: Open

    Comments: While the DOD has closed this recommendation, GAO continues to view this as an open recommendation. As of September 2014, DOD has not yet included operational contract support in its professional military education curriculum. According to the DOD' 2014 Operational Contract Support Action plan the department anticipates inclusion of OCS in joint training and education to the last quarter of 2015

    Recommendation: To provide for improved oversight of operational contract support, DOD should enhance the current strategy for providing contract management and oversight in Afghanistan and other areas of operations. Specifically, the Secretary of Defense should direct the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the Secretaries of the military departments to fully institutionalize operational contract support in professional military education to ensure that CORs, commanders, senior leaders, and other personnel expected to perform operational contract support duties are prepared to do so by integrating and expanding the curriculum and by increasing the number of training offerings on operational contract support with a particular emphasis on contingency operations.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

  3. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: Per DOD the CENTCOM Joint Theater Support Contracting Command (CJTSCC) has contracted for subject matter experts in the construction trades. As of 3/26/2013 CJSTCC has 23 subject matter experts (SMEs) on staff: 13 construction management consultants and 10 construction control representatives. In addition, CJTSCC has established a quality assurance (QA)/technical support team structure to act as SMEs to provide necessary QA/technical experts and training to contracting officer's representatives (CORs). In addition, CJTSCC hired a COR manager to augment the SME workforce who acts as a single point of contact to assure that CORs, contracting officers, and other SMEs are focused on contracting monitoring, contractor oversight, performance monitoring, performance documentation, and assuring contract deliverables conform to contract requirements. The COR manager has developed a website for all SMEs and CORs as a repository for policy, regulations, checklists, and lessons learned.

    Recommendation: To provide for improved oversight of operational contract support, DOD should enhance the current strategy for providing contract management and oversight in Afghanistan and other areas of operations. Specifically, the Secretary of Defense should direct the Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology, and Logistics in consultation with the appropriate CENTCOM officials to establish and maintain a sufficient number of subject matter experts in specialty areas dedicated to the CENTCOM Joint Theater Support Contracting Command to assist CORs with providing contract oversight.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

  4. Status: Open

    Comments: In May 2013, DOD reported that it is developing a draft Instruction --DOD Standard for Contracting Officer's Representative (COR) Certification which discusses the appropriate standards for a COR regarding the number of contracts a COR can manage and oversee. The draft instruction states; in appointing a COR the contracting officer should consider whether the person to be appointed is already performing COR duties on another contract. The number of contracts for which a COR may be assigned is a matter for judgment of the contracting officer considering the size, scope, and complexity of the individual contracts. DOD estimates that the draft instruction will be issued in September 2013. As of August 2014 the department has not issued the proposed guidance

    Recommendation: To provide for improved oversight of operational contract support, DOD should enhance the current strategy for providing contract management and oversight in Afghanistan and other areas of operations. Specifically, the Secretary of Defense should direct the Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology, and Logistics to develop standards regarding the number of contracts that a COR can manage and oversee based on the technical nature and complexity of the contract.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

 

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