Operational Contract Support:

Additional Actions Needed to Manage, Account for, and Vet Defense Contractors in Africa

GAO-16-105: Published: Dec 17, 2015. Publicly Released: Dec 17, 2015.

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What GAO Found

U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM) has established a formal operational contract support (OCS) organizational structure at its headquarters to serve as the central coordination point to manage, plan for, and assess OCS. However, except for U.S. Army Africa, AFRICOM's subordinate commands do not have OCS organizational structures with dedicated personnel to manage OCS. Officials from AFRICOM's subordinate commands stated that applying OCS concepts would be helpful to avoid duplication of work and increased costs. One structure that the Department of Defense (DOD) has introduced is an OCS Integration Cell, an entity with dedicated personnel to provide staff integration and promote coordination on OCS issues; such a cell could help identify and address gaps at AFRICOM's commands, especially in a joint environment like Combined Joint Task Force-Horn of Africa, where contracting officials stated that some military tenants have arrived without informing responsible officials about the number of contractors accompanying them. AFRICOM has also developed a scorecard to assess OCS management capabilities at the subordinate commands against certain standards, but these assessments have not always been accurate because the standards have not been clearly defined or consistently applied. Without clearly defined assessment standards, AFRICOM cannot accurately assess the OCS actions taken by subordinate commands.

AFRICOM does not have a complete picture of the number of contractor personnel supporting its operations in the region. AFRICOM uses two primary sources—daily personnel status reports and the Synchronized Predeployment and Operational Tracker, a DOD contractor personnel accountability database—to collect contractor personnel accountability information, but neither source provides comprehensive accountability or visibility of DOD contractor personnel on the continent because the total number of local national contractor personnel are not being included in either, and the numbers of U.S. citizen and third country national contractor personnel vary between the two. Without clear guidance on how to comprehensively account for contractor personnel, it will be difficult for AFRICOM to ensure that it has full visibility over who is supporting its operations.

AFRICOM conducts some limited vetting of potential non-U.S. contractors, also referred to as vendors, but it has not established a foreign vendor vetting process or cell that would preemptively identify vendors who support terrorist or other prohibited organizations. AFRICOM has not yet established a foreign vendor vetting cell because while DOD guidance discusses the benefit of a cell, it does not require it or specify under what conditions it would be appropriate. Additionally, DOD sites in Africa use background investigations to determine the trustworthiness of contractor employees with access to DOD facilities. However, not all AFRICOM sites are incorporating additional screening measures, such as biometric screening or counterintelligence interviews, based on the specific risks at each site. As a result, AFRICOM is at risk of not exercising the appropriate level of vendor vetting or contractor employee screening on the African continent to protect DOD personnel from insider threats.

Why GAO Did This Study

Since its establishment in 2008, AFRICOM has increased its footprint in Africa to support its mission—building African partner capabilities and deterring threats to regional security. In tandem with AFRICOM's growing footprint will be a continued reliance on contractors to support the command's operations. Accordingly, AFRICOM and subordinate commands must be able to plan for and integrate OCS during operations. House Report 113-446 included a provision for GAO to review OCS in Africa.

This report examines the extent to which AFRICOM (1) has an organizational structure in place to manage, plan for, and assess OCS; (2) accounts for contractor personnel; and (3) vets non-U.S. contractors and contractor employees. To conduct this work, GAO evaluated AFRICOM's OCS organizational structures and conducted site visits to Djibouti, Niger, and Uganda to collect information on accountability and vetting processes. GAO selected these locations based on the types of contractor employees represented, among other factors.

What GAO Recommends

GAO made recommendations to DOD regarding types of contractor personnel to account for, foreign vendor vetting process development, and guidance for contractor accountability and employee screening, among others. DOD generally concurred, but did not concur that AFRICOM should develop contractor accountability guidance because it was in the process of doing so. GAO continues to believe the recommendations are valid, as discussed in this report.

For more information, contact Cary Russell at (202) 512-5431 or russellc@gao.gov.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Open

    Comments: When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.

    Recommendation: To enable AFRICOM's component commands to better plan, advise, and coordinate for OCS, the AFRICOM Commander, as part of AFRICOM's ongoing efforts to update related guidance and emphasize the importance of OCS integration at the subordinate command level, should direct the service components to designate elements within their respective staffs to be responsible for coordinating OCS, and consider the establishment of an OCS Integration Cell or similar structure with these dedicated OCS personnel, as needed.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense: U.S. Africa Command

  2. Status: Open

    Comments: When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.

    Recommendation: To enable AFRICOM's component commands to better plan, advise, and coordinate for OCS, the AFRICOM Commander, as part of AFRICOM's ongoing efforts to update related guidance and emphasize the importance of OCS integration at the subordinate command level, should clarify under what conditions a subordinate joint force command, such as Combined Joint Task Force-Horn of Africa, should establish an OCS Integration Cell.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense: U.S. Africa Command

  3. Status: Open

    Comments: When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.

    Recommendation: To enable AFRICOM to better identify, address, and mitigate OCS readiness gaps at its component commands before inaccurate information is incorporated into formal defense readiness reporting systems, the AFRICOM Commander should clarify the scorecard process, including assessment standards, for OCS Readiness Scorecards to ensure that evaluators can accurately assess subordinate commands' OCS capabilities.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense: U.S. Africa Command

  4. Status: Open

    Comments: When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.

    Recommendation: To enable AFRICOM to comprehensively and consistently account for contractor personnel in Africa, the Secretary of Defense, in coordination with the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, should direct Joint Staff to clarify what types of contractor personnel should be accounted for in its guidance on personnel status reports.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

  5. Status: Open

    Comments: When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.

    Recommendation: To enable AFRICOM to comprehensively and consistently account for contractor personnel in Africa, the AFRICOM Commander should develop area of responsibility-wide contractor personnel accountability guidance on or before December 2015, when the current guidance expires, that clarifies which types of contractor personnel should be accounted for using SPOT, and when SPOT accountability requirements should be incorporated into contracts.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense: U.S. Africa Command

  6. Status: Open

    Comments: When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.

    Recommendation: To ensure that combatant commands are not contracting with entities that may be connected to or supporting prohibited organizations, the Secretary of Defense, in coordination with the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, should develop guidance that clarifies the conditions under which combatant commands should have a foreign vendor vetting process or cell in place to determine whether potential vendors actively support any terrorist, criminal, or other sanctioned organizations, including clarifying when combatant commands should develop procedures for transmitting the names of any vendors identified through this process for inclusion in prohibited entities lists in the appropriate federal contracting databases, such as the System for Award Management.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

  7. Status: Open

    Comments: When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.

    Recommendation: To ensure that AFRICOM applies a risk-based approach to contractor employee screening in Africa, the Secretary of Defense should direct AFRICOM to complete and issue guidance that specifies the standard of contractor employee screening for forward operating sites, based on factors such as the number of DOD personnel on base, type of operations, and local security threat.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

 

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