- April 24, 2012 SPECIAL OPERATIONS FORCES REPROCUREMENT March 13, 2012 United States DoD Contracts February 21, 2012 District Reaches Two Million Man Hours Of Safe Work In Bahrain August 17, 2011 Ammo Storage Point Supports U.S. Air Force Mission in Southern Afghanistan
- August 15, 2011 Washington-Area Contract Awards for the Week of Aug. 15 July 1, 2011 Contrack International: Self-performing Power June 30, 2011 “Afghanistan Reconstruction Contracts: Lessons Learned And Ongoing Problems”
SPECIAL OPERATIONS FORCES REPROCUREMENT
April 24, 2012
SPECIAL OPERATIONS FORCES REPROCUREMENT
WINCHESTER, Va. – When the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers commits to delivering a project or service for a customer, it strives to complete the work on time, within budget, and at a quality standard that the customer expects.
By and large, the Middle East District meets those goals, but sometimes a project goes south and corrective action must be taken.
“It’s always a difficult decision to terminate a contract because the contractor is failing to meet quality and timeliness standards,” said Richard Elder, contract specialist. “We do all we can to help him meet the contract requirements – to pull him over the finish line.
“We employ all the available contracting tools when a contractor isn’t responding, including issuing cure notices and reducing progress payments. We also issue interim unsatisfactory performance ratings, which affect a contract’s ability to get future federal contracts.”
“When none of that works, the government can terminate the contract,” Elder said.
Terminating a contract is never easy or without problems for the government, and it has consequences for the customer as well.
“If we don’t deliver on schedule, the customer doesn’t get his facilities when he needs them,” said William Carter, construction manager. “If we have to re-procure and there aren’t enough available funds to finish the facility, the customer has to provide more money.”
That’s what happened with the fiscal year 2008 facilities package for the Special Operations Forces program in Southwest Asia.
On Jan. 4, the District awarded a $27.8 million contract to Contrack International Inc. for the re-procurement of the fiscal year 2008 facilities program. The original contract for the 2008 program, awarded in September 2008, was terminated for default on March 15, 2011. The only successfully completed facility in the original contract was a $9 million parking ramp turned over in July 2010.
The new contract requires demolition of some uncompleted structures from the terminated contract and construction of a combined facility housing an operations center, operations complex and storage facility; a vehicle maintenance facility; sunshades and canopies; and site work and utilities. Completion is expected by April 2013.
On Jan. 23, personnel from the Qatar Area Office, Middle East District headquarters and Contrack International gathered in Doha to kick off the initial construction planning.
“This is an important project for the customer, and we want to give it a fresh start by getting it moving quickly,” said Vernon Crudup, MILCON (Military Construction) resident engineer. “The goal for this meeting is to create the atmosphere for open communications so that we are fully successful, especially as we start the project.”
Participants then discussed the base pass process, subcontractors, materials and vehicles, lay-down yards, and escorts. They also discussed aspects of the work unique to the re-procurement.
Crudup also told the contractor to be aggressive in meeting schedules. “If you’re not getting what you need from us, let me know. If you need help with your submittals, ask for it.”
Roger Thomas, chief, Construction Operations Division, said that Contrack International Inc. can choose to accept any unfinished construction work, but the quality of that work will be the firm’s responsibility. Or the firm may demolish the work left in place if unsuitable.
“There are many actions that must take place quickly in order for CII to move out quickly on this project,” Thomas said. “Vernon and Joe (Holm) are here to help you succeed. We want to make sure you’re set up for success. Getting this project back on track is critical for our customer.
“As always, quality and safety are most important. We want this project to be something we can be proud of years after the construction is finished.”
“We are excited to work on this project, and we are looking forward to doing a good job,” said Wahid Hakki, chief executive officer, Contrack International.
These facilities support the Special Operations Command in carrying out its strategic objectives in the U.S. Central Command area of operations.
United States DoD Contracts
March 13, 2012
March 13, 2012
Contrack International, Inc., McLean, Va., was awarded a $21,476,299 firm-fixed-price contract. The award will provide for the services in support of the P-954 Waterfront Development Program. Work will be performed in Manama, Bahrain, with an estimated completion date of Nov. 25, 2014. Eighteen bids were solicited, with six bids received. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Winchester, Va., is the contracting activity (W912ER-12-C-0001).
U.S. Department of Defense
Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense (Public Affairs)
District Reaches Two Million Man Hours Of Safe Work In Bahrain
February 21, 2012
WINCHESTER, Va. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Middle East District has recognized a contractor for working more than two million man hours without a lost-time accident.
“This is a rarely achieved level of consistent safety performance,” said Jon Fentress, chief, the district’s Safety and Occupational Health Office. “Both the contractor and the district have reached a significant milestone, especially considering the level of risk associated with constructing multi-million projects in the Middle East with numerous nationalities of workers.”
On Jan. 29, Christian Nelson, district safety specialist, presented a certificate of merit to the leaders of Contrack International Inc. for superior safety performance on the first phase of the waterfront development program in Bahrain.
“This is Contrack International’s second safety award for this project,” Nelson said. “The company received an award for its first one million man hours worked, and now it has topped two million man hours. Achieving this volume of work, without a reportable accident, is a testimony to the efforts of the contractor and the Bahrain Resident Office team to have a safe jobsite.”
“I am proud of this (government and contractor) team,” said John Bishop, resident engineer. “We have a good relationship with Contrack International. The team is focused on delivering a safe project. The worksite is always clean, and that’s important because we have to make sure nothing pollutes the waterway.”
Middle East District is overseeing a multi-phased waterfront development program on a 70-acre site at Mina Salmon Port near Manama for use by U.S. and allied ships and personnel. Contrack International Inc., of McLean, Va., is constructing the phase I project, at $51.3 million, which includes utilities, operations and maintenance facilities, and vehicle storage.
The award spans the period from April 2010, when the district issued a notice to proceed to the contractor, through October 2011.
In presenting the award to Contrack’s Ali Chahine, project manager, and Mohamed Gouda, health and safety director, Nelson acknowledged the firm’s proactive safety culture fostered by upper management and demonstrated daily by every worker on site. “Contrack International’s professionalism, dedication, and attention to detail have resulted in an excellent safety record,” the award citation read.
“Our work in Bahrain is by far the darling of our projects for the Army Corps of Engineers in this area of operations,” said Wahid Haki, chief executive officer, Contrack International. “We want to deliver not only a successful project but an outstanding project. And much of this success is because of our local partner, NASS. When you are in a new market, so much depends on your local partner. NASS deserves much credit for its work on this project, too.”
Gouda said that the contractor has 14 nationalities working on the site and that any subcontractor with more than 10 people, working on the jobsite, will get safety training.
Nelson said Contrack International is receptive to safety inspections and recommendations on how to improve jobsite safety.
“Safety is a management system, not just the job of one individual,” Nelson said. “Contrack International emphasizes safety on this project, and I see it reflected in the actions of the firm’s quality assurance manager and project manager, as well as its safety director.
“While it’s important to have an accident prevention plan that complies with the Corps of Engineers’ safety manual, it’s critical to execute that plan – to get it understood at the worker level, especially with so many nationalities working here,” Nelson continued.
“Over the life of this project, I’ve seen improvement in their scaffolding,” Nelson said. “They use the appropriate procedures to set it up from the foundation to the working level, which can be four or more stories high. They’re also compliant with fall protection requirements.”
Nelson complimented the contractor’s housekeeping practices, too. “A clean and well organized jobsite is generally a safer worksite. They use personal protective gear, such as hard hats, gloves, safety glasses and safety shoes. They have toolbox safety meetings weekly with all their workers to make them aware of issues or improve their work practices.
“My experience is that when a contractor pays attention to the small details, they’re paying attention to the bigger issues on a jobsite,” Nelson said.
Contrack International Inc. also holds the contract for the second phase of the waterfront development program, which began in October 2010 with a one-year construction period. That phase includes port operations and harbor patrol facilities, small craft berthing facility, and additional utilities.
The Middle East District recognizes all contractors that accumulate one million man hours of work without a lost-time accident.
District resident engineers have responsibility for nominating contractors for the safety award. To receive recognition, contractors must comply with the established criteria in the Corps of Engineers safety manual, which includes approved project safety plans, hazard analysis, safety indoctrination for new employees and regular training, protective gear, and no recordable accidents.
“This is one of our (district) showcase projects,” said Roger Thomas, chief, Construction Operations Division for the district. “We depend on contractors to help us build projects for our customers. This partnership is producing some of the safest work in theater.”
The Middle East District provides engineering, construction and related services in the Middle East, Central Asia and other areas. Its work includes designing and constructing facilities for use by U.S. forces, performing engineering activities for other U.S. government and foreign agencies, and providing operations and maintenance services for various customers. In addition, the district provides project management, engineering, contracting and support services to USACE districts in Afghanistan.
Ammo Storage Point Supports U.S. Air Force Mission in Southern Afghanistan
DVIDS / Afghanistan
August 17, 2011
KANDAHAR AIRFIELD, Afghanistan – An ammunition supply point that opened Aug. 10 triples the munitions storage capacity for the U.S. Air Force on Kandahar Airfield.
“Having this additional storage capacity helps with the operational tempo for all Air Force assets at KAF and three other bases,” said 1st Lt. Jonathan Tolman, munitions flight commander, 451st Air Expeditionary Wing.
“We distribute from KAF to the air bases at Bastion (in Helmand province), Shindand (in Herat province) and Jalalabad (in Nangarhar province),” Tolman said. “Those air bases then distribute to other FOBs [forward operating bases] throughout the theater.”
The $16 million facility was opened in a ribbon-cutting ceremony attended by Lt. Col. Edward Phillips, construction management officer for southern Afghanistan, U.S. Air Forces Central; Col. Benjamin Wham, commander, Afghanistan Engineer District-South, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers; representatives from the construction firm, Contrack International Inc.; and several Air Force and Army members.
Phillips accepted the facility from USACE by signing a DD Form 1354 – the document that records the property transfer to the Air Force.
The 451st AEW now has nine new earth-covered magazines for storing munitions.
“These new ECMs provide us with increased storage space for munitions,” said Senior Master Sgt. Daniel Meyers, munitions flight chief, 451st AEW.
“This means we no longer have to store them in open revetments, giving us better control and preventing loss.”
ECMs are constructed to have dual protection – from outside factors as well as to mitigate accidents that could occur in the storage areas, according to Glenn Matsuyama, chief of the Military Construction Branch, South District.
Technically, the new ECMs decrease the quantity and distant arcs if an explosion occurs, said Brian Zickefoose, resident engineer, KAF Airfield Resident Office, South District. “Because the arc is decreased, the net explosive weight can be increased. That simply means that the Air Force can increase the amount of munitions it stores.”
The requirements for the ECMs changed during the course of construction, necessitating a work suspension. Once the scope issues were resolved, construction progressed quickly.
“Contrack International finished this project two months ahead of schedule,” Zickefoose said. “After the initial ECM was constructed to standard, the contractor repeated each structure quickly with good quality control throughout the project.”
The ammunition supply point was the last project to be completed in a contract awarded in April 2009 that had projects supporting both U.S. Air Force and U.S. Army operations on KAF.
“The work was completed in phases to meet operational needs,” said Greg Hegge, project manager, South District. “The first projects to be complete were the rotary wing apron and taxiway, followed by the close-air-support apron. Completion of the ammo supply point completes the $43.3 million contract.”
The rotary wing apron and taxiway were turned over to the Army in October 2010; the close-air-support apron was turned over to the Air Force in January.
Military construction projects completed at KAF extend the International Security Assistance Force’s ability to conduct operations more frequently, safely and efficiently.
USACE’s Afghanistan Engineer District-South provides design and construction services throughout southern Afghanistan to support the International Security Assistance Force and U.S. Forces-Afghanistan. The work is carried out in Regional Commands South, Southwest and West with the goal of achieving counterinsurgency effects and bolstering the Afghan government’s services to its people.
– By Joan Kibler
August 17, 2011
Washington-Area Contract Awards for the Week of Aug. 15
Washington Post / Washington, DC
August 15, 2011
Honeywell Technology Solutions of Columbia won a $42.6 million contract from the Army for the development of the Army Prepositioned Stocks-3 Afloat Program.
Contrack International of McLean won a $16.1 million contract from the Army for construction services.
Northrop Grumman Systems of Herndon won an $11.8 million contract from the Army for the installation or reconfiguration of sense and warn capabilities at nine sites.
Booz Allen Hamilton of McLean won a $23.7 million contract from the Navy to provide training, education, engineering, technical and management support.
AT&T Government Solutions of Herndon won a $6.8 million contract from the Navy to provide technical support.
IIF Data Solutions of Centreville won a $44.3 million contract from the Defense Human Resources Activity for program support technicians and administrative support technician level staff support.
TCOM of Columbia won a $12.4 million contract from the Navy for hardware.
G-W Management Services of Rockville won a $9.6 million contract from the Navy for construction.
American Association for the Advancement of Science of the District won a $6.3 million contract from the Department of Health and Human Services.
Array Information Technology of Greenbelt won a $4 million contract from the Air Force for information technology services, including telecommunications services.
Contrak International of McLean won a $47.2 million contract from the Army for construction of structures and facilities.
Creative Associates International of the District won a $13.6 million contract from the Army for professional, administrative and management support services.
Contrak International of McLean won a $16.1 million contract from the Army for construction of structures and facilities.
Northrop Grumman Technical Services of Dulles won a $388.1 million contract from the Army for education and training services.
MAV6 of Alexandria won a $1.5 million contract from the General Services Administration for miscellaneous services.
State Warehouse NOVA of Arlington won a $2.2 million contract from the General Services Administration for lease or rental facilities.
ABSG Consulting of Arlington won a $3.4 million contract from the Department of Homeland Security for research and development.
DCS of Alexandria won a $4.7 million contract from the Navy for research and development.
Perkins + Will of the District won a $2.5 million contract from the General Services Administration for professional, administrative and management support services.
ACG Systems of Annapolis won a $1.1 million contract from the Navy for communication, detection and coherent radiation equipment.
CSC of Falls Church won a $39.7 million contract from the Defense Department for information technology services, including telecommunications services.
Sage Computing of Reston won a $9.6 million contract from the Department of Housing and Urban Development for professional, administrative and management support services.
Balfour Beatty Construction of Fairfax won a $405 million contract from the Army for construction of structures and facilities.
Alex-Alternative Experts of Chantilly won a $30.5 million contract from the Department of Homeland Security of professional, administrative and management support services.
SAIC of McLean won a $3.6 million contract from the Navy for research and development.
Zodiac of North America of Stevensville won a $10.9 million contract from the Army for ships, small craft, pontoons and floating docks.
QI Tech of Vienna won a $5.2 million contract from the Army for professional, administrative and management support services.
General Dynamics Advanced Information Systems of Fairfax won a $9.9 million contract from the professional, administrative and management support services.
– By Vanessa Small
August 14, 2011
Contrack International: Self-performing Power
American Executive / Massachusetts
July 1, 2011
It’s been said that those willing to take a risk and go far are the ones who can determine how truly far they can go. That saying rings true for Contrack International, Inc. and its CEO, Wahid Hakki. After all, it was a risk that helped this construction and engineering company gain a strong foothold within the Middle East—focusing its operations on self-performance and hiring local talent.
“Nine years later, we are still serving that market,” said Hakki. “Of course, we took a tremendous chance and there were challenges involved with executing our plans overseas, but we believed strongly in our model of self-performance and engaging the local market. Turns out, we were right to put so much faith behind it. It’s been a tremendous contributor to our growth.”
Contrack InternationalIt’s true. The contractor, based in McLean, Va., has grown substantially over the last 10 to 15 years, coinciding with the war effort that continues overseas. As Hakki described it, Contrack goes where the US Army needs it to go, building the facilities, warehouses, and airfields that aid in the completion of its military missions.
Still, Hakki explained his company’s success should not be attributed to the concept of supply and demand alone. Its growth, in fact, stems from the trust the construction company builds with its clients as well as its employees. “When we first arrived in Afghanistan in 2002, we thought it would be best to train and hire members of the local community to support our projects,” he said. “Our competitors were building protection barriers and subcontracting work to other international companies, but we weren’t interested in taking that approach. We wanted to build a training center.”
Aware of the chance it was taking, Contrack invested approximately $5 million from its initial local task order into the development of a learning center that would train and certify the Afghan locals in a number of valuable trades, including masonry, plumbing, and electrician work. The learning center was open to the public, and workers were paid a daily allowance for attending classes, making it even more inviting prospect, said Hakki.
That risk resulted in great rewards for the company. Aside from the advantage of economically training its work staff, which separated it from the competition, the training center created even greater benefits for the company. “We had a greater sense of security in the area because we earned the trust of the local community,” he explained. “We engaged them in our plans, showing them we were different than the others. We put our faith in them by placing our work in their hands, so they were motivated to do the same for us.”
Of course, that’s not the only security measure the company takes when conducting work in combat areas. That’s one thing Contrack doesn’t leave to risk, according to Hakki. Although it concentrates on projects that are largely within the parameters of military protection, it has to formulate careful plans and strategies to protect the transport of its materials, for example.
It accomplishes that task by hiring the right private companies to handle such matters and is selective about what projects it takes on. “We aren’t going to put ourselves in harm’s way for the sake of a profit,” said Hakki. “But we do believe that there are ways of establishing security beyond building barriers. Clearly, our efforts to create our training center reflect that.”
Although some of its trainees went to work for the competition, Contrack recognized the value in creating the learning center, including its humanitarian and socioeconomic impact on the region. “Most of the locals don’t care about the political matters at play,” said Hakki. “They simply want to support and feed their families like everyone else. That was not the aim of our efforts, but it was an equally rewarding result.”
Diverging from diversity
Since then, available development projects in Afghanistan have slowed, and Contrack closed its training center temporarily. Still, the company’s self-performance model carries on, as it continues to hire and train local talent for its specific projects in all the areas where it works, including Afghanistan, the Gulf States, and Egypt.
In addition to its model, the company gathers its strength from its diversity, which allows it to continue to expand its portfolio overseas. “We have a lot of Americans, Europeans, and Middle Eastern employees,” said Hakki. “It’s our diversity that helps us connect and form working relationships with the cultures we come in contact with. We are familiar with their customs and languages, and we recognize how that compatibility is an important part of our strategy.”
Although the availability of military construction projects in the market has decreased, Contrack will remain focused on government projects. There are still great prospects for the company in the Middle East, and it is exploring opportunities in areas such as Guam and South Korea. Hakki said the company is also interested in working with the US State Department to build US embassies overseas as well as with USAID to create properties to support the organization’s humanitarian work in underdeveloped regions.
No matter where or what kind of projects Contrack pursues, Hakki said its self-performance model and engagement with the locals will play a significant part. “As we emerge into new markets, we may have to contract some of the preliminary work,” he said. “But our faith and belief in our model is going to follow us wherever we go. It’s clearly served us well, and the long-term results that come from it make it worth the investment and the risk.”
– By Erica Garvin
July 1, 2011
“Afghanistan Reconstruction Contracts: Lessons Learned And Ongoing Problems”
June 30, 2011
WASHINGTON D.C. – REMARKS OF WAHID HAKKI CEO, CONTRACK INTERNATIONAL, INC. BEFORE THE AD HOC SUBCOMMITTEE ON CONTRACTING OVERSIGHT OF THE COMMITTEE ON HOMELAND SECURITY AND GOVERNMENTAL AFFAIRS UNITED STATES SENATE ON “AFGHANISTAN RECONSTRUCTION CONTRACTS:
LESSONS LEARNED AND ONGOING PROBLEMS”
JUNE 30, 2011
Chairman McCaskill, Ranking Member Portman and distinguished members of the Subcommittee. On behalf of Contrack International, Inc., I thank the Subcommittee for the invitation to share some of our experiences and lessons learned as part of the reconstruction efforts in Afghanistan over the past nine years. We share your interest in examining how the Government can bring greater efficiency, transparency and accountability to the construction contracting process. We believe those goals can help everyone deliver projects that are on schedule, within budget and sustainable.
I will begin with an overview of Contrack’s operations in Afghanistan, followed by a discussion of some of the specific challenges we have faced there along with those of our primary customer, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. I will conclude with a brief case example of a project that was successful for both the Government and Contrack. That experience will hopefully highlight a successful practice that may be incorporated into future construction projects in Afghanistan.
I. OVERVIEW OF CONTRACK INTERNATIONAL, INC.
Since 1985, Contrack has operated as a privately owned U.S. corporation currently headquartered in McLean, Virginia. I joined the company in 1994 as Contrack’s Executive Vice President responsible for U.S. operations. We suffered a tremendous loss in December 2010 when my close friend and our CEO, Karim Camel-Toueg, passed away. I stepped in as Contrack’s CEO and have 27 years of international construction experience.
Contrack has offices in Egypt, Qatar, Bahrain and Afghanistan. We provide engineering, procurement and construction services, as well as facilities operations and maintenance. Our focus primarily is on military, institutional and infrastructure projects throughout Northern Africa, the Middle East and Central Asia. We have always worked hard to maintain high standards for excellence in government contracting. This has earned Contrack ranking among the top international contractors in the world by Engineering News-Record for the past 17 consecutive years.
Over the past nine years, Contrack has completed more than $1.5 billion worth of fast-track, design-build projects in Afghanistan for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (also called the “USACE” or “the Corps”) and the Air Force Center for Engineering and the Environment (or “AFCEE”). We currently employ approximately 4,500 personnel in Afghanistan, 3,700 of whom are Afghan locals. Contrack has completed over 50 task orders in Afghanistan for the Corps. Among other commendations, Contrack was awarded a Certificate of Appreciation from the Combined Forces Command-Afghanistan and the Corps’s Afghanistan Engineer District (known as AED) honoring Contrack for the company’s extensive efforts to assist the Afghans in rebuilding their nation.
Our first contract grew out of an Indefinite-Delivery Indefinite-Quantity Contract with the Corps for design-build and construction services in the Middle East. Under that agreement, the Corps issued task orders for Contrack to work on specific projects. Through the Corps’s Middle East District in Winchester, Virginia (formerly called the Transatlantic Programs Center) and the Afghanistan Engineer District, the Corps has administered much of our work in Afghanistan.
Working as a prime contractor, we have constructed ANA Brigade camps, Airfields, Entry Control Points, Ammunition Supply Points, Bulk fuel storage and supply systems, Forward Operating Bases and other facilities. We were also awarded the permanent Operations and Maintenance Services contract to perform O&M work in numerous ANA and ANP locations throughout Afghanistan. Currently we have projects in Kandahar, Camp Bastion, and Shindand as well as numerous O&M sites throughout the country.
Contrack’s country office in Kabul consists of 60 staff established in two central offices in the Wazir Akbar Khan district of Kabul. The first office was established in late 2002. The majority of staff at the Kabul office has been with the company a minimum of three to five years. The departments included at our Kabul office are Logistics, Procurement, Human Resources, Warehousing, Camp Services, Security and Finance and coordination with the local Ministries.
II. LESSONS LEARNED IN AFGHANISTAN SINCE 2002
A. Working with Local Nationals and Contractors
Contrack’s business model in Afghanistan is somewhat different than most prime contractors in that we self-perform the majority of our work, rather than acting purely as a construction manager of major subcontractors. Contrack has been a vital partner with the COE in accomplishing the AED’s mission statement to: “Provide sustainable development projects for the Afghan people that employ the populace, build skilled human capital, and promote the future stability of Afghanistan.”
In order to utilize the local labor force, the majority of Afghans must first be trained in a skill. To accomplish this task Contrack set up a Training Center to train and educate the Afghans on a variety of construction trades. To date we have graduated more than 3,000 students, most of whom are still employed by Contrack.
As a prime contractor, we try to foster relationships with local firms so that they can succeed. This requires on-going training and guidance concerning U.S. technical and contractual obligations. We have been in Afghanistan since 2002 which has allowed us to develop a list of approved, qualified subs. When procuring the services of a local subcontractor, a minimum of three bids is required, where practical, to comply with cost and pricing requirements. A “best value” method is then used to determine the lowest responsible offer that meets technical criteria.
B. Contracting with Foreign Contractors
Afghan contractors often receive contracts which are more than they can handle. Many of them are also unfamiliar with U.S. contract requirements. This sometimes results in projects in which the Government quietly “descopes” the balance of the unfinished work rather than issuing a formal termination for default which is publicly accessible to other government agencies or users. Many times we have observed completed projects by unqualified contractors which are plagued with substandard workmanship.
Unfortunately, we share the perception in the international contacting community that there is an uneven playing field in that foreign contractors typically are not subjected to the same standards as U.S. contractors. These include safety, ethics, bonding and cost accounting requirements that are established both to protect workers and the interests of the U.S. government. Apparently these requirements are either waived or simply not enforced, which presents a cost advantage for non- U.S. construction and design firms.
We believe that the COE has begun recognizing the risks in awarding projects to foreign firms based on low price only. For example, the Government recently awarded a MATOC to 14 firms, all of which are American firms. Future task orders will be competed among these 14 firms only. This promotes full and open competition with qualified construction contractors to deliver the best value for taxpayers’ dollars invested in Afghanistan.
III. SPECIFIC CHALLENGES WORKING IN AFGHANISTAN
A. Rapid Rotation of Field Staff
We appreciate the difficulties faced by the Government and commend the professional manner in which so many contracting personnel perform their work in a hostile region. The frequent rotation of COE field staff , however, creates a cascade of challenges to the contractor and the government. For example, delays in resolving contract modifications due to turnover of government contracting officers and related personnel causes delays in payment to contractors. Similarly, high turnover of government personnel in the field causes long delays in submission of final CCASS performance evaluations. These evaluations, which are a critical source selection tool for government agencies, often are prepared inaccurately by personnel who were not present during the construction phase. For the first five years, we received no past performance evaluations for projects in Afghanistan. This information vacuum hurts both the government and the contractors.
Quality at the job site is overseen by the USACE’s quality assurance (QA) representatives. COE QA staff often are experienced in other areas but lack sufficient training to understand and enforce the technical requirements of the particular contract to which they have been assigned. This is another problem created by the frequent turnover in field personnel and insufficient financial incentives for government personnel deployed in combat zones.
Lack of partnering between the contractor and the COE is another unfortunate result of the personnel turnover. Contrack has participated in numerous partnering sessions with the COE in other regions such as Qatar, Bahrain and Egypt. We believe these sessions vitally contributed to the success of the projects. However, in nine years in Afghanistan and after completing over 50 projects, we have had only one partnering session with the COE.
High turnover of government personnel exacerbates lack of coordination between the different government agencies in charge of the projects and their respective end users. This often causes delays to the project and cost overruns. Sometimes the end user’s requirements are not fully understood by the Corps. For example, on design-build projects early partnering sessions involving the contracting agency, the contractor and the facility’s end user would help the parties to achieve the end user’s design goals.
B. Logistics and Transportation
The high volume of cargo creates delays at the base Entry Control Points. Material and equipment convoys are at the mercy of the transporter. Meanwhile, border politics that can block or delay shipments of material to the project sites makes matters worse.
In a typical convoy movement, between 200-400 trucks are assembled to carry U.S. supplies in south of Kabul. The U.S. supply chains often have to wait several days until as many trucks as possible are gathered before moving. Often this means that some trucks are days or weeks overdue at their destination.
C. Working with Afghan Ministries
The Afghan Ministries change procedures on a regular basis, i.e. the requirements for tax exemption documentation, approval of visas, etc. This lack of stability is further compounded by a thin staff which lacks cross-training. For example, only one person at the Ministry approves customs clearance paperwork, creating costly bottlenecks.
The Ministry of Interior has refused issuance or re-issuance of all visas for non-engineers, which is causing major problems for us. This creates a critical a lack of qualified technicians, accountants, finance personnel, etc.
New and constantly changing Presidential Decrees further increase the uncertain risk environment. For example, the latest ban on private security firms will cause disruptions, delays and safety problems.
IV. CASE EXAMPLE OF A SUCCESSFUL PROJECT
The foundation of a good project is a good and well coordinated design. A design that meets the general guidelines set by the COE and addresses the end users’ needs. On a project in Bagram Air Base where we were tasked to design/build the Main Entry Control Points, we had our designers on site meeting with the COE and the Force Protection staff to agree on a design that satisfied everyone’s requirements. This eliminated a lengthy review process and clarified the objectives of the project. All of these partnering efforts resulted in a successful project completed on time and on budget.
I appreciate this opportunity to share our experiences in Afghanistan and would be pleased to answer your questions.