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Army told to watch contractors closer
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WASHINGTON -- The Army does not have enough personnel or training to adequately supply its soldiers in combat, and it needs an additional 2,000 military and civilian personnel with the authority to sign and manage contracts, according to a new report obtained by The Associated Press.

Saying that providing forces on the move with ever-changing technologies is not as simple as it once was, the report said the Army "lacks the leadership and personnel (military and civilian) to provide sufficient contracting support."

The 106-page report, titled "Urgent Reform Required," says that the Army has seen a 600 percent increase in workload and is dealing with more complex contracts, yet staffing has consistently declined or remained stagnant since 1990.

Contracting should be treated as a key priority, and not as an "institutional side issue," the report said, describing Army contract personnel as "understaffed, overworked, under-trained, under-supported, and, most important, under-valued." It recommends adding 400 military personnel and about a thousand Army civilians and says another 600 Army staff should be assigned to the Defense Department's contract management agency to provide greater oversight of the contracts.

U.S. officials familiar with the report did not say how much the additional personnel would cost. The Army's contracting work force now has just over 10,000 people.

The report also calls for creating general officer positions within the Army's contracting work force — a move to attract talented men and women to a field most would otherwise avoid because of dim prospects for career advancement.

Citing key problem areas, the report said the Army's policies are outdated, training is lacking and a little more than half of the military and civilian contracting personnel are certified for their current jobs.

An Army contracting fraud scandal has generated more than 80 criminal investigations. However, higher numbers, better quality and more clout within the Army's contracting ranks are expected to reduce opportunities for fraud, waste and abuse as tens of billions of dollars continue to be spent on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the officials said.

The panel is chaired by former Pentagon acquisition chief Jacques Gansler and was established in August by Army Secretary Pete Geren. It was given a broad mandate to examine how the military branch acquires the gear and services it needs each year to operate.

Since 2001, provisional offices have spring up in Iraq, Afghanistan, Kuwait and Qatar and other locations to buy items such as bottled water, laundry services, barracks, food, transportation, and warehouse services.

But in certain places, such as Camp Arifjan in Kuwait, there were too few qualified people, too little oversight, high staff turnover, and poor record-keeping. In the midst of those shortcomings came a huge flow of dollars for the war, creating an environment ripe for misconduct and inefficiency.

A separate Army task force was assigned to examine a random sampling of the 6,000 contracts worth nearly $2.8 billion issued since 2003 by the Kuwait office in a search for rigged awards and sloppy work. That review is to be completed by the end of the year.

The Army Criminal Investigation Command already has 83 ongoing criminal investigations related to contract fraud in Iraq, Kuwait and Afghanistan. Nearly two dozen military and civilian Army personnel have been charged or indicted and more than $15 million in confirmed bribes has changed hands, according to the command.

Gansler is now director of the Center for Public Policy and Private Enterprise at the University of Maryland.

Other panel members included David Berteau, a former defense acquisition official, retired Army generals David Maddox and Leon Salomon, and retired Navy Rear Adm. David Oliver.

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