Iraq and Afghanistan:

Agencies Are Taking Steps to Improve Data on Contracting but Need to Standardize Reporting

GAO-12-977R: Published: Sep 12, 2012. Publicly Released: Sep 12, 2012.

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What GAO Found

Although SPOT was designated as the common database for the statutorily required information on contracts, assistance instruments, and related personnel in Iraq and Afghanistan, officials from DOD, State, and USAID generally relied on other data sources they regarded as more reliable to prepare the 2011 joint report. For example, only State relied directly on SPOT for contractor and assistance personnel information, while none of the three agencies used SPOT to identify the number of contractor and assistance personnel killed or wounded in the two countries. The agencies used a variety of sources to prepare the 2011 joint report and, in some cases, used different data sources or changed their methodologies from what was used for the 2010 joint report. This was generally done in an effort to provide better information or address limitations identified in our prior reports.

While the agencies’ changes in sources and methodologies could result in more reliable data, they limit the comparability of agency-specific information to identify trends from the 2010 joint report to the 2011 joint report. Additionally, the agencies did not use consistent methodologies to obtain and present the data contained in the 2011 joint report, limiting comparability of data across the agencies. For example, based on information presented by each agency, it is not possible to obtain an accurate number for the total value of new contracts awarded in Afghanistan because the agencies used different measures for contract values and one agency did not break out values by country. As a result of the differences from year to year and among the agencies, information in the joint report should not be used to draw conclusions across the three agencies about contracts, assistance instruments, and associated personnel in Iraq or Afghanistan for fiscal year 2011 or to identify trends over time.

DOD and State have taken some steps to improve their contractor personnel data in SPOT and recent system changes may also help to improve the system’s functionality. DOD and State officials explained that they are continuing to verify that data in an effort to improve the reliability of personnel data, while USAID did not identify any effort to improve the data, citing its limited use of the system. In addition, the SPOT program office implemented changes to the system that may improve functionality as well as address limitations we previously identified. For example, contractor personnel job titles have been standardized to make it easier to identify related jobs such as security functions. These changes were not in place in time to facilitate the agencies’ efforts to prepare the 2011 joint report, but according to agency officials, they may help with the preparation of future reports. However, some State and USAID officials have questioned whether continued investments should be made in SPOT’s development given that other systems can provide them with information on contracts, assistance instruments, and associated personnel that better meet their mission needs.

DOD, State, and USAID generally do not use SPOT to help manage, oversee, and coordinate contracting in Iraq and Afghanistan. The three agencies have primarily used the system to generate authorizations for contractor personnel to use U.S. government services. Officials from the three agencies identified the use of systems and mechanisms other than SPOT to facilitate contract management and coordination. For example, each agency has its own systems to manage its contracts.

Why GAO Did This Study

The Departments of Defense (DOD) and State (State) and U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) have relied extensively on contractors in Iraq and Afghanistan to provide a range of services, such as security, transportation, and base operations. Additionally, State and USAID have relied on recipients of grants and cooperative agreements—two types of assistance instruments—to implement infrastructure, governance, and economic development projects in the two countries.

Reliable, meaningful data related to contracts and assistance instruments are a starting point for informing agency decisions and ensuring proper management and oversight. In recent years, Congress has taken a series of actions to increase the oversight and availability of information related to Iraq and Afghanistan contracts and assistance instruments. Specifically, amendments from the Ike Skelton National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2011 (NDAA for FY2011) require those three agencies to submit annual joint reports to Congress on their contracts and assistance instruments with work performed in Iraq and Afghanistan.1

The reports are to address several matters, such as the number and value of contracts and assistance instruments, number of contractor and assistance personnel, number of contractor personnel performing security functions, and any plans for strengthening the collection and coordination of contract information. In April 2012, the three agencies issued their second Annual Joint Report on Contracting in Iraq and Afghanistan, covering fiscal year 2011(hereafter, referred to as the 2011 joint report), to congressional committees. Their first joint report, covering fiscal year 2010 (2010 joint report) was issued in May 2011.

The joint reporting requirement builds upon earlier requirements for the three agencies to track information on contracts, assistance instruments, and associated personnel. The National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2008 (NDAA for FY2008) directed DOD, State, and USAID to identify common databases to serve as repositories of information on contracts and contractor personnel in Iraq and Afghanistan. The three agencies subsequently designated the DOD-managed Synchronized Predeployment and Operational Tracker (SPOT) as their common database for such information. With the passage of the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2010 (NDAA for FY2010), Congress expanded the requirement to cover grants, cooperative agreements, and associated personnel. In response, the agencies agreed that SPOT was also their system of record for tracking statutorily required assistance instrument and personnel information. Although tracking this information should provide much of what the agencies are to include in their joint reports, there is no statutory requirement for the agencies to use SPOT as the basis for what they present in the joint reports or for any other purpose.

Amendments to the NDAA for FY2008 made in 2011 directed us to assess and report annually on the three agencies’ joint report. Pursuant to that mandate, we have reviewed the 2011 joint report and are providing our required assessments of (1) the data and data sources used by the agencies to develop the joint report; (2) the agencies’ steps to improve SPOT to track statutorily required information on contracts, assistance instruments, and associated personnel; and (3) the agencies’ use of SPOT to manage, oversee, and coordinate contracting in Iraq and Afghanistan.

What GAO Recommends

In this report, we are recommending that the Secretaries of Defense and State and the USAID Administrator work together to standardize the methodologies used to obtain and present information contained in the annual joint report on contracting in Iraq and Afghanistan to provide Congress with comparable information across agencies and years.

For more information, please contact John P. Hutton at (202) 512-4841 or huttonj@gao.gov.

Status Legend:

More Info
  • Review Pending-GAO has not yet assessed implementation status.
  • Open-Actions to satisfy the intent of the recommendation have not been taken or are being planned, or actions that partially satisfy the intent of the recommendation have been taken.
  • Closed-implemented-Actions that satisfy the intent of the recommendation have been taken.
  • Closed-not implemented-While the intent of the recommendation has not been satisfied, time or circumstances have rendered the recommendation invalid.
    • Review Pending
    • Open
    • Closed - implemented
    • Closed - not implemented

    Recommendations for Executive Action

    Recommendation: To ensure that the agencies provide Congress with comparable information across agencies and years on contracts, assistance instruments, and associated personnel with performance in Iraq and Afghanistan, the Secretaries of Defense and State and the Administrator of USAID should work together to standardize the methodologies used to obtain and present information contained in the annual joint report on contracting in Iraq and Afghanistan to the greatest extent possible.

    Agency Affected: Department of State

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: For the Fiscal Year 2012 Annual Joint Report on Contracting in Iraq and Afghanistan, the Department of State coordinated with the DOD and USAID to standardize the methodologies used and presentation of information to the extent possible so that comparisons across agencies will be more accurate. For example, in reporting values of new and ongoing contracts, all three agencies reported the same measures for contract values, and used the same data source for contractor personnel and contractors killed or wounded.

    Recommendation: To ensure that the agencies provide Congress with comparable information across agencies and years on contracts, assistance instruments, and associated personnel with performance in Iraq and Afghanistan, the Secretaries of Defense and State and the Administrator of USAID should work together to standardize the methodologies used to obtain and present information contained in the annual joint report on contracting in Iraq and Afghanistan to the greatest extent possible.

    Agency Affected: United States Agency for International Development

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: For the Fiscal Year 2012 Annual Joint Report on Contracting in Iraq and Afghanistan, USAID coordinated with the DOD and State to standardize the methodologies used and presentation of information to the extent possible so that comparisons across agencies will be more accurate. For example, in reporting values of new and ongoing contracts, all three agencies reported the same measures for contract values, and used the same data source for contractor personnel and contractors killed or wounded.

    Recommendation: To ensure that the agencies provide Congress with comparable information across agencies and years on contracts, assistance instruments, and associated personnel with performance in Iraq and Afghanistan, the Secretaries of Defense and State and the Administrator of USAID should work together to standardize the methodologies used to obtain and present information contained in the annual joint report on contracting in Iraq and Afghanistan to the greatest extent possible.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: For the Fiscal Year 2012 Annual Joint Report on Contracting in Iraq and Afghanistan, DOD worked with the State and USAID to standardize the methodologies used and used consistent presentation of information to the extent possible so that comparisons across agencies will be more accurate. For example, in reporting values of new and ongoing contracts, all three agencies reported the same measures for contract values, and used the same data source for contractor personnel and contractors killed or wounded.

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