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BIPARTISAN GROUP OF SENATORS CALL ON ARMY TO ADDRESS CONCERN OVER CONTRACTORS WITH LINKS TO TERRORIST GROUPS

Lapses in Army response time increase likelihood taxpayer dollars flowing to terrorist organizations

December 6, 2012

(Washington, D.C.) – A bipartisan group of senators led by U.S. Senator Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) sent a letter to the U.S. Army yesterday expressing concern over the growing backlog of referrals pending before the Army’s Suspension and Debarment office and particularly the backlog of referrals on contractors with links to terrorist groups. The letter, sent to Army Secretary John McHugh and Army Chief of Staff General Raymond Odierno, specially called for greater responsiveness by the Army in processing the recommendations made by the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR).

Along with Senator Shaheen, the letter was also signed by Senators Richard Burr (R-NC), Tom Coburn (R-OK), Claire McCaskill (D-MO), Jim Webb (D-VA), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), James Inhofe (R-OK) and John Cornyn (R-TX).

“An effective and timely suspension and debarment process is critical to ensuring appropriate use of taxpayer dollars in Afghanistan, as well as for preventing these funds from flowing to criminal and terrorist networks,” the senators wrote in the letter. “With these concerns in mind, we ask that you closely review the 43 cases involving terrorist groups that are still pending before the suspension and debarment branch. In addition, we ask that you ensure the Army processes future referrals from Afghanistan in a deliberate and timely manner.”

SIGAR provides independent oversight of reconstruction efforts in Afghanistan to ensure that money being spent by the United States is being used efficiently and effectively. SIGAR’s recommendations to suspend or debar a contractor are sent to the Army for review and to make a final decision. A debarment referral from SIGAR indicates that a contractor is strongly suspected of committing waste, fraud or abuse and can lead to the termination of their contract and the permanent debarment of the contractor.

Significant lapses between these referrals from SIGAR and action by the Army increases the risk that money is flowing to corrupt or poorly performing contractors. Even more concerning, 43 of SIGAR’s pending recommendations with the Army involve individuals or companies with links based on findings from U.S. Central Command and the Department of Commerce to terrorist groups, such as Al Qaeda and the Haqqani Network.

The stated goal for the Army’s Suspension and Debarment office is to complete referrals from an inspector general or investigative agency within 30 days. However, SIGAR reports that between June 2011 and June 2012, the average time to process a debarment referral was a total of 323 days.

Below is the full text of the letter:

 

December 5, 2012

The Honorable John McHugh
Secretary of the Army

1600 Army Pentagon
Washington, DC 20310-1600

The Honorable Raymond Odierno
Chief of Staff of the Army
1600 Army Pentagon
Washington, DC 20310-1600

Dear Secretary McHugh and General Odierno:

We write to express our serious concern over the growing backlog of referrals pending before the Department of the Army’s Suspension and Debarment Official, specifically those referrals made by the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR).  An effective and timely suspension and debarment process is critical to ensuring appropriate use of taxpayer dollars in Afghanistan, as well as for preventing these funds from flowing to criminal and terrorist networks. 

As you are well aware, the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Logistics and Materiel Readiness has set a goal of completing referrals from an inspector general or investigative agency within 30 days.  SIGAR uses its investigation and audit capacity – the largest of any agency present in Afghanistan – to inspect contractors who are inefficient or who are suspected of waste, fraud and abuse.  It is the responsibility of the Army to ensure that all suspension and debarment referrals from SIGAR are processed in a timely fashion in order to stop any uncovered abusive practices as quickly as possible.

Unfortunately, significant time lapses between referrals and debarment action often allow more money to flow to corrupt or poorly performing contractors.  For example, SIGAR reports that between June 2011 and June 2012, the average time to process a debarment referral was a total of 323 days.  In fact, as of November 8, SIGAR had 60 referrals pending before the Army's suspension and debarment branch.  Three of these cases have been pending for over a year.  

Making matters worse, 43 of the debarment recommendations made by SIGAR and based on findings from U.S. Central Command and the Department of Commerce involve individuals or companies with links to terrorist groups such as the Haqqani Network and Al Qaeda.  We believe these 43 cases deserve special attention from the Army due to the nature of their allegations.

These facts raise serious questions about the length of the suspension and debarment process at the Army, as well as the risk that taxpayer dollars are reaching terrorist groups.  Our reconstruction assistance funding is being spent at a rapid pace and far from public scrutiny.  We have an important watchdog in place in Afghanistan working to address this and other concerns, and we are certain you would agree that agencies and contractors should pay appropriate attention to its recommendations.

With these concerns in mind, we ask that you closely review the 43 cases involving terrorist groups that are still pending before the suspension and debarment branch.  In addition, we ask that you ensure the Army processes future referrals from Afghanistan in a deliberate and timely manner, especially those cases involving individuals or companies with suspected links to terrorist groups.  We respectfully request a detailed response and action plan regarding this important matter within 30 days.

Thank you for your consideration of our request and your continued service on behalf of our men and women in uniform and our nation. 

Sincerely,

                                                                                                                                               

JEANNE SHAHEEN                                                  RICHARD BURR

United States Senator                                          United States Senator

CLAIRE MCCASKILL                                                 JIM WEBB

United States Senator                                           United States Senator

RICHARD BLUMENTHAL                                       TOM A. COBURN

United States Senator                                           M.D. United States Senator

JAMES M. INHOFE                                                  JOHN CORNYN

United States Senator                                           United States Senator

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