SIGAR’s Sopko re $50 Million Sole Source Rule of Law Contract: “You Can’t Make This Up”

John Sopko

John Sopko

The Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) has discovered that the State Department has awarded a sole source contract for nearly $50 million to provide training on the rule of law in Afghanistan. Remarkably, the State Department ignored its own rules for contracting and provided no mechanism for verifying spending under the contract. SIGAR also has found that the International Development Law Organization, which was awarded the contract, is particularly ill-equipped to manage such a large contract and is refusing to cooperate with SIGAR’s investigation.

From the alert letter (pdf) sent to Secretary of State John Kerry from Special Inspector General John Sopko:

I write to alert you to serious deficiencies related to the Afghanistan Justice Training Transition Program administered by the Department of State, Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs (INL). In the course of performing an audit of rule of law programs managed by INL, SIGAR became aware of INL’s sole source award to the International Development Law Organization (IDLO) for Afghan justice sector training services. This award does not appear to contain basic provisions that would allow INL to ensure proper monitoring and evaluation of a project expected to cost U.S. taxpayers nearly $50 million.

On December 27, 2012, INL offered IDLO $47,759,796 in exchange for work on a project titled, “Completing the Transition in Afghanistan: Justice Training Transition Program (JTTP)” (see attached). On January 2, 2013, IDLO accepted INL’s offer by initialing a two-and-a-half page Letter of Agreement. According to INL, this is the largest project IDLO has ever worked on and the United States has already obligated $20 million towards its completion.

It is very easy to see that this is the largest project IDLO has ever worked on. Their website is pathetic. The “people” section lists only one person, Irene Khan, noting that she served as Director General of Amnesty International from 2001-2009. The page fails to mention that she was removed from that post and caused quite a scandal with the huge payout she forced Amnesty International to give her in order to leave.

Returning to Sopko’s letter, we see that IDLO was chosen to replace another organization, PAE (whose new Executive Chairman just came from CACI, scary folks there…) and that SIGAR had “significant concerns raised regarding award and management of the PAE contract”. It appears that the State Department can’t quite figure out how to observe the law in giving out grants to train Afghans on the administration of justice. Further, SIGAR found that the State Department ignored its own rule in awarding this contract in a manner that makes oversight almost non-existent, even though it did require oversight on the portion of the program that is contracted to the Afghan government.

Regarding IDLO itself, the letter is devastating (emphasis added):

Preliminary information gathered by SIGAR auditors suggests that IDLO is ill-prepared to manage and account for how U.S.-taxpayer funds will be spent on the JTTP. Documents provided to SIGAR indicate that IDLO’s annual budget is about $27 million (at €1.32 to the dollar). A State Department official told SIGAR auditors that IDLO’s budget has declined in recent years, even as its portfolio of projects has increased, forcing IDLO to implement its projects with less funding. According to this official, IDLO also lacks proper international financial certifications, which prevents it from validating its internal spending. Therefore, in the absence of further explanation, it seems ill-considered for INL to have awarded almost $50 million to an organization that may not have the ability to account for the use of those funds, under an agreement in which INL failed to require proper provisions for oversight.

The oversight risks associated with INL’s sole source award prompted SIGAR to request substantive information directly from IDLO. However, IDLO has refused to fully comply with SIGAR’s repeated requests for information regarding its budget, organizational structure, and financial relationship with the U.S. government. IDLO has also refused to provide complete copies of the materials it uses to help train Afghan justice sector officials under its award from INL. IDLO’s failure to comply with these requests raises serious concerns regarding its commitment to transparency and willingness to acknowledge the authority of the U.S. government to oversee how U.S. taxpayer funds are spent.

It should come as no surprise then, that Inspector General Sopko would have this to say about the contract:

The State Department — for some inexplicable reason — gave IDLO $50 million in U.S. taxpayer dollars, then gave away any oversight of this foreign entity. The irony here is that State violated its own written policy and gave them a huge check to teach the Afghans about the ‘rule of law.’ As the saying goes, you can’t make this up. We’re going to get to the bottom of this and hold people accountable.

Well said. Although, being foul-mouthed, I would have gone all the way to “You can’t make this shit up”.

Update: IDLO just tweeted this link to me with their rebuttal of SIGAR’s charges:

28 replies
  1. Jim White says:

    @emptywheel: Perhaps. Could also just be run of the mill corruption.

    Although, there is the “narcotics” bit in the State Department program. That always sets off alarm bells, especially given the Karzai family businesses.

  2. What Constitution? says:

    Well, at least they paid by check, rather than a couple of pallets of cash — great strides in the “accountability” department there.

    And also on the “plus” column: it’s “only” $50 million. Just think, the bidder probably could have tossed Yemen into the “designated country” offer and gotten at least $100 million — “why buy one when you can get two for twice the price”. How very frugal.

    I just hope the continuing audit process is able to identify how much of this money was used in successfully teaching the Afghans enough about the rule of law to object to US insistence that they continue to hold prisoners without charge in Afghan jails once the US turns over control of the jails — and maybe we can see whether any of those educational materials were ever read by the Americans currently doing the detaining.

  3. Frank33 says:

    You cannot make this up either. The desperate failures at the Pentagon found a new scam to win the Afghan War. Use sex, drugs and rock and roll, and the “Burning Man” hippies. It could have worked!

    The war effort, in short, was sophisticated when it came to deploying lethal hardware like drones, but clumsy in just about every other way. A few people in the upper echelons of the command structure were painfully aware of this. Warner knew because he had their ear. He had connections in the Defense Intelligence Agency, the CIA, the Army Special Forces, and the Office of the Secretary of Defense. He also knew what an unlikely figure he cut—a Burner among bureaucrats. When I asked him later why the Department of Defense had turned to him, he shook his head and laughed. “Oh,” he said, “they’re fucking desperate.”

  4. Garrett says:


    PAKTIKA PROVINCE, Afghanistan (June 24, 2012) — Commanders from the Afghan National Police, Afghan Local Police, the District Chiefs of Police along with the Paktika Provincial Chief of Police gathered together in Sharan district for the first area law enforcement conference, June 9.

    During this conference, the PCoP addressed the law enforcement interests of Paktika province, as the eventual withdrawal of coalition forces approaches. One of the main topics covered were the tasks and responsibilities of the ALP within their villages.

    “Their duty is to secure their own land, get the bad guys out of their village and maintain respect for their elders,” said Dwlat Khan, Paktika Provincial chief of police.

    First Paktika law enforcement conference focuses on role of local police, Allied Command Operations, NATO

    N.D.S. head Assadullah Khalid is from Nawa district, Ghazni province. And Nawa district was security rated “no go”. Except for Dawlat Khan, Police Chief, who Assadullah Khalid selected.

    American Special Forces liked Dawlat Khan. He would lead raids on his enemy’s houses, at the wheel of his own bright red pickup truck, where U.S. Special Forces only had to pull up the rear.

    Which was the basis of his protection racket. Dawlat Khan could shake down the local shopkeepers, with the assistance of U.S. Special Forces following behind his pickup truck, and his ability to call in airstrikes.

    So, Dawlat Khan later moves on to be Bandit in Chief of nearby Paktika. And also to be the head of Watan Risk Management, a Karzai-family transport protection racket.

    And to be key speaker at this, um, law enforcement conference.

    Which was probably catered well.

  5. bsbafflesbrains says:

    Thomas Pynchon couldn’t make this stuff up. Fantasmagoric.
    I imagine members of the MICC club sitting around table and saying “We need to account for this extra 50 million any ideas?”
    “Hey why don’t we call it “rule of law” training since we have already trained the police and soldiers.” “Good one Jerry let’s give Chuck the contract”

  6. Garrett says:

    SIGAR can be a bit off base in what they do.

    It’s like doing an audit of an organized crime outfit. And then reporting on the accounting and contracting problems they find. SIGAR is just missing something.

  7. What Constitution says:

    @Garrett: SIGAR probably would reply that their mission isn’t to evaluate substance, only process. And besides, the whole idea that our government is presuming to lecture the Afghanis about respect for the rule of law seems best to fit within the educational guideline that “those who can’t do, teach.” Since there would be no legitimate expectation of success anyway, they punt to SIGAR to count the beans. “Look busy” is the operational mantra.

  8. Garrett says:

    Something about Wardak:

    NYT has an article about U.S. Special Forces near Kandahar, wearing black Taliban turbans.

    But out in the Arghandab Valley of Kandahar Province, one of the most volatile regions in the country, locals talk about a different breed of American Special Operations forces who settled in around 2005. They are said to drive civilian vehicles, wear local clothes, speak good Pashto – and yes, sport thick beards.

    They are so good at blending in that the locals have taken to calling them “Spin Taliban” – Pashto for White Taliban – because of their resemblance to the actual Afghan Taliban, including the trademark black, puffy turbans.

    And then here, someone saying it was done in Wardak:

    Haji Farid also mentioned that about wardak where american special forces wear black turbans and have grown big beards

    It’s just an intentionally fucked up evil thing, I think.

  9. Chetnolian says:

    @Jim White: I came back from reading through to that very link to find you had put it up. You hadn’t really bothered to do that had you? Oh I know IDLO isn’t American but that is allowed is it not?

    IDLO has quite a few very respectable human rights backers so you might want to be a little cautious. Ms Kahn was one of the first and most vocal opponents of GITMO.And there were all sorts of oddities surrounding her very political sacking from Amnesty. I don’t know or care whether State broke its own procurement rules, but it is a bit much to assume an overseas NGO has been at fault until you really know.

  10. Frank33 says:

    A key indicator of how we manage our projects is the impact they have on the ground – we have both statistical and anecdotal evidence of the benefit to Afghans, especially women.

    Two actual anecdotes are provided by IDLO, that support the benefits to women by this scam. What supports statistics better than anecdotes, and vice versa. Based on anecdotes and statistics, this program is winning the War!

  11. Jim White says:

    @Chetnolian: The fact that they are international didn’t come into play in my looking at them and the evidence SIGAR presented. In fact, I would prefer an international group to a standard set of beltway thieves.

    Their rebuttal doesn’t explain why SIGAR wasn’t able to obtain the training materials that they are using. This would be such a simple thing for them to do and was one of the things that seemed most disturbing to me.

  12. Garrett says:

    Zalmay Khalilzad has got a WaPo editorial today.

    Khalilzad doesn’t seem to say much in the editorial.

    But he sure has been getting into the newspapers a lot, lately. About his hobnobbing with the warlords, and plotting election winners, and such.

  13. Chetnolian says:

    @Jim White: It might be that this award was made in a bit of a hurry.

    I think you might find this whole issue has something to do with sensitivity to Islamic ways of thought, which Irene Kahn as a Brit of Bangladeshi origin might be expected to have; a US based body, less so.

    As to the information SIGAR has failed to get,it kind of depends on how they were asked, does it not?

    The well-known approach of US bureaucrats to international reporting and auditing issues which do not quite correspond to how things are done in the US might be in play here. Don’t forget that SIGAR is probably asking for things the award letter does not require, especially in the field of auditing.

    In the field of defence where I operated, commercial pressures meant you had to put up with US bureaucratic crap, which I am afraid does treat all foreigners (including contractual partners)as guilty until proven innocent. That can be irritating, to put it mildly. Perhaps IDLO does not feel a need to put up with it.

    Perhaps if they asked nicely….?

  14. Martin J says:

    This is a rebuttal? Two unverifiable stories and something about IDLO being around for 30 years? Sure, for the first 29 of those years it did something no one cared enough about to evaluate and this time it took on something that there are many eyes upon.

  15. Jim White says:

    @Chetnolian: I also got the impression the award was made quickly. Note that the letter mentions that this project was peeled away from a larger group of projects run by PAE. I would hope that SIGAR will follow up the alert letter with a full report that also addresses why the project was taken away from PAE. I’m betting there is something pretty bad lurking there.

  16. Jim White says:

    @Jerry Lewis: Uhm, Chetnolian is a long-time, respected commenter who is providing a very important perspective on an issue where we are trying to assemble what has taken place from fragmented information. Coming in out of the blue and commenting for the first time under two different names hardly makes me interested in parsing something that appears to start off from a very prejudiced position.

  17. Martin J says:

    The why is not a difficult concept. PAE is a for-profit organization. IDLO is a not-for-profit one. The former has to turn out a profit; the latter does not. State is looking for a cheaper — not necessarily better — provider and IDLO offers to shave 10 to 20 mil off of what PAE is being paid. Simple math. What is a difficult concept is how State thought it would get away with bending its own procedures. In Afghanistan of all places. I say of all places because something like SIGAR does not exist for every country where US-funded programs run which makes it far easier for State to get away with something like this in, let’s say, Tanzania.

  18. Chetnolian says:

    @Jerry Lewis: If I was looking for balanced comment on anything to do with Amnesty International, which everyone knows to be a librul lefty sort of organisation I most certainly would not look for it in the Daily Mail.

  19. Chetnolian says:

    And one more thing,I am a good old fashined British atheist. I think all religion is nonsense. So by “Islamic ways of thought” I did not mean anything other than sensitivity to the culture,which seems pretty important if you are trying to graft on concepts of international law to an Islamic country. I share the view of the late lamented Helen Thomas that in the US a balanced view of all religious matters and their cultural baggage is sometimes difficult to achieve

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