The State Department Tells Us How They Really Felt: Part 1

Perhaps the old saying that good things come to those who wait is true.

Three years, five months, and four days ago I filed a Freedom of Information Act request with the U.S. State Department. This was a follow up request to a previous FOIA request. Originally I had asked for contract documents pertaining to the U.S. State Department's Worldwide Personal Protective Services contract.

WPPS is the State Department's effort to pre-plan, organize, set up, deploy and operate contractor protective service details around the world. It has also been the main cash cow for what was once Blackwater, now Academi. Its primary public contract was WPPS and WPPS II umbrella contracts, along with DynCorp International and Triple Canopy Inc., for protective services in Iraq, Afghanistan, Bosnia and Israel.

In March 2000 the State Department issued the first iteration of the WPPS contract. It was awarded to DynCorp International to provide services in the former Yugoslavia and subsequently was used for deployments in the Palestinian Territories and in Afghanistan for the Karzai Protective Operation. In early 2004 additional task orders were added to the original contract to provide contractor support for the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad when it opened on July 1, 2004. DynCorp was unable to meet the full requirements of the expanding mission, and a second service provider was established through a contract with Blackwater USA. Another company, Triple Canopy, subsequently was awarded a third contract.

This is not a contract which will go down in contracting history for its transparency. In January 2010, the state's inspector general office released its August 2009 Memorandum Report on the Preliminary Review of the Second Worldwide Personal Protective Services (WPPS II) Contract Task Orders. The memo informed various State offices of the audit cancellation of the WPPS II contracts due to "insufficient documentation."

Anyway, the State Department did finally provide documents. In going through them I saw that the statement of work referred to semiannual performance assessments that the State Department was supposed to do of its contractors.

So I requested copies of all six month performance reports, for the three WPPS contractors then operating in Iraq, from the time they each first started operating in Iraq through the last completed performance report, as of September 16, 2008.

On February 13 I finally received documents responsive to that request. Of course, what I received is only a fraction of what I requested and some of what I received was incomplete, or in State Department jargon, "released with excisions."

Still, let us be grateful to the State Department. Because this documentation provides a long overdue inside look on how the State Department oversees the implementation of its contracts by its contractors.

Now, before going any further I gladly acknowledge that firms like Blackwater, DynCorp and Triple Canopy had and have very difficult jobs. Trying to protect people in a war zone is dangerous work. Given the first few years after the initial invasion of Iraq by U.S. forces, when contractors were often bereft of realistic guidance from the U.S. government on what they could and could not do, coupled with a government bureaucracy that was ill-equipped to do effective oversight back in the early years of Operation Iraqi Freedom, not to mention a protect the client at all costs attitude on the part of some contractors, it is not difficult to understand why sometimes things went wrong.

But in spite of that companies very often did good, even great work. And, as any reasonable person might suppose, sometimes they screwed up royally. Of course, some in industry just can't bring themselves to acknowledge the obvious. They would rather blame the messenger and accuse the media of pursuing "spicy merc" stories than admit that sometimes a contractor messed up.

What these documents provide is information on how the State Department rated its contractors on criteria such as quality, cost control, business relations, timeliness of performance and customer satisfaction.

Today we look at Blackwater. The State Department assessment, dated July 1, 2008, comes about nine and a half months after the killing of 17 Iraqi civilians at Nisour Square in Baghdad by Blackwater contractors.

According to Paul Isaac, the DS/OPO/HTP (Department of State/Office of Overseas Protective Operations/High Threat Protective Division) contracting officer representative:

During the late summer and fall of 2007, actions by Blackwater WPPS management personnel, concerning two task orders, caused the program office to lose confidence in their credibility and management ability. Blackwater management's lack of communications and handling of the two separate incidents disrupted Program Office and Regional Security Office operations. While the Program Office was in the process of requesting the removal of the Local Program Manager, the Director and Deputy Director of WPPS Operations, and two project managers, the personnel in question resigned from the WPPS program.

You can read the full evaluation here (Part 1 and Part 2).

As an interesting side note, the evaluation was signed off by contracting officer Kiazan Moneypenny. I noted in my book that:

It did not help Blackwater when the press reported that the State Department interceded in a congressional investigation of Blackwater, ordering the company not to disclose information about its Iraq operations without approval from the Bush administration. The State Department official, Kiazan Moneypenny, wrote Blackwater vice president Fred Roitz to "advise" him of Blackwater's obligations under the State Department's contract. Among them was this statement: "All documents and records (including photographs) generated during the performance of work under this contract shall be for the sole use of and become the exclusive property of the U.S. government." These obligations, according to the contract, exist in perpetuity, not just until the contract expires. As a result, Moneypenny told Roitz to make "no disclosure of documents or information generated under [the contract] unless such disclosure has been authorized in writing by the Contract Officer."