The conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan put tremendous pressure on U.S. government contracting. The deployment of large numbers of U.S. and coalition troops to Iraq, Afghanistan and surrounding countries required massive and expensive support on the part of hundreds of thousands of private contractors. Bases had to be constructed, critical infrastructure repaired or even build new, training provided to the Iraqi and Afghan security forces, government ministries recreated and personnel trained, and supply lines for U.S. forces and government entities stood up and maintained for more than a decade.
Before the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan, the U.S. government, particularly the Department of Defense, had done some planning and preparation for possible large-scale deployments overseas. But no one had prepared for the scale and complexity of the efforts undertaken in Southwest Asia. Moreover, the problem of supporting U.S. counterterrorism efforts was not limited just to Southwest Asia or to the work of the Department of Defense. Many other cabinet departments and government offices became involved in the global struggle, perhaps most notably the Department of State, the Agency for International Development and the Drug Enforcement Agency. As the requirements levied on them expanded, so too did the requirement for private contractor support and the challenges of doing what was, in effect, wartime contracting.
But the needs of personnel in the field, embassies and other facilities overseas were not the only criteria for awarding contracts. Even as the demand for contractor services has exploded and along with that the number and value of contracts, the State Department has sought to implement President Obama’s 2009 guidance to the federal government to maximize competition in their contracting activities. The State Department has been relatively successful in this effort. According to a study by the Center for Strategic and International Studies, “For the period between 2000 and 2011, the majority of contract actions . . . were awarded on a competitive basis after receiving multiple offers.” Between 2008 and 2011, “the total value of competitively awarded contracts with multiple offers increased by 9.4 percent per year.” However, in the same period, total dollars awarded competitively after receiving only a single offer increased at 24 percent per year. Overall, it appeared that the State Department was successfully balancing between operational requirements and the demands for competitive contracting.
There is, however, at least one glaring exception to the State Department’s record of achievement in contracting. This was the Worldwide Aviation Support Services (WASS) contract. This contract supports the global work of the Bureau for International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs, Office of Aviation (INL/A). INL/A operates some 140 airplanes and helicopters and flies more than 50,000 hours annually. The activities of this office include aviation support for the eradication and interdiction of illicit drugs, training of contractor and host nation personnel, movement of embassy personnel and equipment, reconnaissance, personnel recovery (PR), medical evacuation, security of personnel and equipment, ferrying of aircraft and aviation logistics. INL/A supports counter drug and even counter terrorism operations in the most dangerous and difficult environments in the world, including warzones. The support provided by any private contractor for these activities must be of the highest caliber.
Remarkably, the WASS contract, worth approximately $33 million a month, has been the sole province of DynCorp for some 23 years. Only in 2014 did INL/A decide that it was time to compete the contract. This would seem to make eminent sense and be in keeping with the President’s policy on competition. Yet, to this day, the State Department has failed to execute the desired competition. In fact, Dyncorp is on its third contract extension which expires on October 31, 2016. All the bids are in and the interested companies are simply awaiting a decision. If the contracting process is not completed by early July, it will be impossible for another contractor to take over responsibility for all the equipment, sites and activities by the October 31 deadline. Consequently, the State Department will be forced to grant Dyncorp its fourth extension.
The point to competing the WASS contract is for the State Department to see if it can achieve better value, a lower price or possibly both. Competing long-held contracts are an excellent way for the government to encourage even the best performing prime contractor to give the government a better deal. When a contract has been in the hands of a single company for nearly a quarter of a century, the possibility of a full and open competition producing a better outcome is a virtual certainty.
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