I recently wrote a piece for contract management improvements in reconstruction and nation-building initiatives. Updates were provided by Senator Claire McCaskill, (D-Mo), who is completing an overseas trip, including Afghanistan, and stated she was encouraged by what she saw in Afghanistan.
During the trip, auditors told McCaskill oversight agencies are working more collaboratively, ensuring contracts are properly scoped and are not duplicative.
According to Sen. McCaskill, she was encouraged by “indications” that training is being conducted for auditors, contract managers and others with procurement oversight. What those indications entail is not specified. As Sen. McCaskill is a former auditor, I fear those “indications” she was privy too may seem reasonable to her, but may not be adequate for the type of responsibilities and workload these contract personnel will be undertaking.
McCaskill also focused the contracting oversight portion of her trip on the Commander's Emergency Response Program (CERP) funds – which are a type of micro-lending program for small scale projects. She went on to say that most projects under CERP were in the $20,000 range, but now about half the programs cost $500,000 or more. This is a troubling development, as it seems that larger contracts are being awarded under CERP, presumably as a work around to bypass procurement processes in the name of speed. The Senator stated that she will further investigate CERP funds and how they are being used when she returns to Washington, and I hope she lives up to that commitment. CERP is also referred to as “Walking Around Money,” and I believe waste, fraud, and abuse seem to be inevitable with this program as I do not know anybody that walks around with $500,000 in their wallets.
Unfortunately, little progress has been made with monitoring of U.S. Agency for International Development contracts for reconstruction, humanitarian and other development work in Afghanistan, according to the Senator:
…"There's an awful lot of oversight being done there by e-mail because the work is done outside the wire," McCaskill said. "The work is being done in places government officials cannot easily get to, to oversee them."…
Oversight done via email? I’m all for using technology to increase procurement efficiency, but that seems to be taking things a bit too far.