Weeks before the State Department assured Americans that things were operating “normally” at its consulate in the Kurdish capital of Erbil in August, concerned procurement officials were quietly saying the advance of militants of the Islamic State, also known as ISIL or ISIS, meant the government needed to shell out tens of millions of dollars to counter a “rapidly deteriorating” security situation.
On a no-bid basis, the State Department nearly doubled the size of a task order to defense contractor Triple Canopy, which had been hired to train Iraqi security forces but was asked to now perform diplomatic security and guard services.
“Unlike other rebel groups in Iraq that hold an ideology to shape and control intrastate politics, ISIS is working to achieve a broader Islamic state straddling Syria and Iraq,” a State Department official wrote in a 7-page certification reviewed by The Washington Times, dated July 16.
The document provides insight into how State Department officials viewed the emerging threat of the Islamic State months ago, with blunt assessments by the contracting officer that seemed to go well beyond the careful messaging of the agency’s press operation.
Weeks after the contract boost, a State Department spokeswoman told reporters that Erbil’s consulate was “operating normally.”
According to the contract, the State Department was clearly moving fast to strengthen diplomatic security, adding 18 contractor personnel — an increase from 39 to 57 — to the Triple Canopy task order.
The contract could be the leading edge of a ramp-up in business for military contractors, whom the U.S. relied on to supplement American troops’ activities in Afghanistan and Iraq.
Former State Department adviser Laura Dickinson, a professor at George Washington University, said the contract showed the continued dependence of the U.S. on military contractors.
“It’s particularly an issue for the State Department. They need contractors,” she said. “The problem is we still have not created a workable system of accountability and oversight.”
She cited continued loopholes and gaps in U.S. law that make it unclear whether contractors can be prosecuted for serious crimes.
The procurement document also highlighted other problems: In this case, it specifically ruled out hiring contractor DynCorp, one of a handful of major wartime logistics contractors, saying it would be a conflict of interest for the company to train local police that would ultimately replace American contractors in some security duties.
Under a so-called indefinite delivery, indefinite quantity contract awarded in 2010, eight companies were eligible to compete for task orders to train Iraqis. Under such umbrella contracts, agencies award the contract to several companies under a general statement of work, with the companies competing for individual task orders.
But under the latest task order, State Department officials gave the work to Triple Canopy without competition.
Asked about the lack of competition in the Triple Canopy contract, a State Department official, in a written statement to The Times, cited the “current urgent circumstances in Erbil” in the decision to award the contract to Triple Canopy.
Months earlier, the contracting official was more blunt on the need for the no-bid deal, saying “limited life support and operational infrastructure exist in Erbil.”
“Any stand up of a new vendor in Erbil to meet these time-sensitive requirements would be impossible in this rapidly changing security environment,” the official concluded.
Triple Canopy declined to comment.
The State Department’s sole source justification was signed in July, but officials said they only notified Triple Canopy of the award on Sept. 4.