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Lawsuit: Kabul Embassy Guards Told to Lie About Long Hours

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The company responsible for providing security at the U.S. embassy in Kabul, Afghanistan, has at times directed guards to underreport the number of hours they worked to avoid revealing that they have been on the job up to 18 hours per day, according to a federal lawsuit filed this week on behalf people who have served on the guard force.

In addition, supervisors at the company, Aegis Defense Services, “regularly edited employees’ timesheets so that they did not reveal any work beyond the Regular Schedule,” the lawsuit says.

Aegis employees in Kabul are supposed to work 72 hours per week but have regularly exceeded that, on many occasions working 14- to 18-hour days for six or seven days per week, the lawsuit says.

While the extra hours allowed Aegis to meet its staffing obligations to the State Department, the employees were not paid for that time, the suit alleges.

The civil suit seeks money allegedly owed to affected guards and says “the amount in controversy exceeds $5 million.” Filed as a class action, it accuses Aegis of breach of contract and unjust enrichment.

The four plaintiffs named in the lawsuit are described as a former senior guard, a dog handler, and two former emergency medical technicians. The lawsuit estimates that the class has at least 200 members.

A lawyer for the plaintiffs, Hillary Schwab, told the Project On Government Oversight that those she represents were "overworked, fatigued, and exhausted, which made them unable to carry out their assigned duties protecting the embassy.”

“No one whom I've interviewed...failed to make this point of their own accord. They just couldn't do the job," Schwab said.

Spokesmen for Aegis and the State Department did not immediately respond to requests for comment on the lawsuit today.

News of the lawsuit comes as Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is testifying on Capitol Hill today about the September 11, 2012, attack that killed Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens and three other Americans in Benghazi, Libya. In addition, President Obama’s nominee to succeed Clinton, Senator John F. Kerry (D-Mass.), is scheduled to appear for a confirmation hearing tomorrow.

Clinton is fielding questions from the Senate Foreign Relations committee on diplomatic security, and Kerry is expected to face similar questioning.

The lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, dovetails with allegations that the private security force responsible for protecting the embassy in Kabul has been stretched dangerously thin by long hours for days on end.

As POGO reported last week, people who have worked for Aegis in Kabul allege that security weaknesses have left the embassy—perhaps the most at-risk U.S. diplomatic post in the world—vulnerable to attack.

Former Representative Christopher Shays (R-Conn.), who co-chaired the federal Commission on Wartime Contracting in Iraq and Afghanistan, said that if that commission were still in business it would be holding hearings on the allegations. In an interview Sunday, Shays said congressional oversight committees should investigate.

“Those are serious concerns and they can’t be ignored,” Shays said.

“If the accusations are accurate, you’ve got a management problem. If they are not accurate, you’ve got a problem with those who are doing the work,” he said. “But in either case you’ve got a problem.”

Speaking before the lawsuit was filed and without knowledge of it, Shays said if a company under contract to provide embassy security systematically asked employees to misrepresent their hours worked, that company should be replaced, and if individuals within the company gave such directions they should be fired.

Through a spokesman, Senator Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.), a key watchdog of diplomatic security in her role as chairman of a Senate subcommittee on contracting oversight, called the allegations in POGO’s report “disturbing.”

“Years after hearings I chaired highlighted problems at the Embassy in Kabul, the State Department's management and oversight of private security contractors is still woefully inadequate,” she said in a statement. “I plan to have a serious conversation—one that includes Senator Kerry—about what kinds of changes need to be made to ensure that our embassy personnel are protected,” she added.

In interviews and written communications with POGO, people who have served on the embassy guard force in Kabul said problems persisted there even after the deadly attack in Benghazi put diplomatic security in the spotlight.

Last July, dozens of guards signed a petition submitted to Aegis and the State Department expressing a vote of no confidence in three guard force leaders. Soon after that, two guards who helped organize the petition were fired in what they said was retaliation for their whistleblowing.

A July 18, 2012, State Department memo obtained by POGO appeared to allude to the guards’ protest when it said a “mutiny” within the protective force “put the security of the Embassy at risk.” The memo, which called the mutiny “baseless,” did not mention the petition explicitly.

POGO’s report was also published online by Foreign Policy magazine.

Aegis declined to answer questions for the POGO report published last week. “Per our contractual obligations, all questions and inquiries regarding this contract should be directed to the Department of State's Public Affairs Office,” company spokesman Joshua C. Huminski wrote.

The State Department last week told POGO that “no guard is scheduled to work more than 12 hours per shift.”

“[S]ome contract personnel were required to work additional days, partly due to the need for intensive in-service training,” the Department said in a written response to questions.

“Through Government oversight, contract adjustments, and Aegis’ adherence to contract requirements, the number of hours and days the guards worked were limited to contract requirements, and the Department maintained its primary objective of ensuring the safety and security of the Embassy,” the Department said.

The State Department denied that it sought the removal of any contract workers for raising concerns and said individuals had been removed “for other reasons.”

A senior State Department official testified last month that after the killings in Benghazi the government sent teams to assess security at 19 posts in 13 countries. The Department later told POGO that the teams were not sent to the embassy in Kabul.

“[D]ue to its location in a non-permissive environment,” the Department said, security was already heightened there and “it was determined that the inter-agency assessment teams would be best utilized at other locations.”

Brooke Sammon, a spokeswoman for Senator Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), who is a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said that in the wake of the attacks on U.S. diplomatic facilities last September, “it is essential that the State Department review the security of all posts overseas, particularly those we know are in dangerous parts of the world.”

By: David S. Hilzenrath
Editor-in-Chief, POGO

default thumbnail David Hilzenrath is Editor-in-Chief for the Project On Government Oversight.

By: Adam Zagorin
Journalist in Residence, POGO

Adam Zagorin, Journalist in Residence Adam Zagorin is a journalist in residence for the Project On Government Oversight. Adam's work dives into many different areas including corruption and the financial arena.

Topics: Contract Oversight

Related Content: Contractor Accountability, Embassy Guards, State Department

Authors: Adam Zagorin, David S. Hilzenrath

Submitted by Expat7 at: February 28, 2014
I am on project now and I can tell you that all the negative reports are true and the State Dept. is looking the other way while it happens. There is human trafficking going on also as the Gurkhas (Nepalese Guards) are being forced to stay on contract for one year before being able to go on leave while American expats go on leave every 105 days.
Submitted by Been There - Between AGNA and Aegis at: January 31, 2013
At some point (long overdue) you have to look at the specifications of the contract (read: The State Department). Good, bad or Indifferent--you always get what you ask for (statement of work) and pay for (contract value). Short of that, dump the contract force for a USG force (may or may not be better unless you use US Marines). The DOS (and Congress) needs to stop deluding themselves.
Submitted by Scott Amey at: January 28, 2013
Hoosier84, I must take issue with your statement that “POGO has been a champion of the 'lowest price, technically acceptable' contracting.” We were not. POGO is on record stating that we support the change to best value by the State Dept., but warned this change wouldn't be a panacea. In fact, the State Dept used best value when awarding the Kabul contract to Aegis, and that doesn't seem to have given us much of an improvement. POGO was concerned that CWC’s emphasis on LPTA ignored the other contract violations and inappropriate behavior by private guards, or even the bigger question of whether securing an Embassy in a war zone is an inherently governmental function. You also stated that the government is “undermining their own contractors,” but POGO often finds it is the contractors that are cutting corners and violating the contract’s terms – under LPTA and best value. State might acquiesce, but the problem is contractors, in their race to the bottom to win the contract, can’t perform under the contract’s terms. POGO supports the use of LPTA in certain procurements and we hope that the government's contracting officers and contractors focus on having robust “technically acceptable” requirements more than the lowest price, but bad requirements and a lack of oversight will create problems in any contract, LPTA or best value.
Submitted by Diane at: January 27, 2013
I met a Nepali mother of three whose husband worked in Iraq, 7 days a week and made about 400 US a month. This family was struggling; I could use my Nepali friend's help here in the US to keep our elderly and disabled out of overpriced nursing homes, but I cannot even get her a visitor's visa. It upsets me to see my tax dollars being used to exploit others whilst making the richest creeps even richer. Why is this always the story of Mankind? Can't we write another one--paying for cruelty, greed and violence is not what I want to do as a citizen of this, or any, country.
Submitted by r_olcott@msn.com at: January 26, 2013
It's too bad the Republicans on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee didn't want to address this issue, but chose to uncivilly admonish Secretary of State Hillary Clinton...
Submitted by ivanczar at: January 26, 2013
Day in day out we see the " Racket Of War " - General Smedley Butler , playing out in The Afghan War . Let's get out now.
Submitted by Jacob8 at: January 26, 2013
If the Govt's requirement is for 12 hours shits to cover the 24 hour day, the contractor needs 2 people and charges the Govt appropriate overhead and expenses for 2 people. However, if the contractor can cover the work and "get by" with 1.75 people (i.e. 15 hour and 9 hour shifts) per day, the contractor just pocketed 25% of the money he charging the Govt for the overhead and "expenses" on the 2 contracted individuals who are supposed to work 12 hours each. In addition, continuously working the extra hours in this stress environment rapidly degrades the quality or work and/or lever of protection. Further, are the people being supplied the ones the contract called for, i.e. locals suppled in lieu of Americans or Brits called for in the contract. On the surface it appears that the US Govt and taxpayers are being defrauded and warrants a real investigation. I'd also look hard at Govt official who is supposed to be managing this contract and certifying numbers of people onboard and hours worked. Might just be some typical hanky panky afoot.
Submitted by G-G at: January 26, 2013
We Truckers called It Forced Dispatching" When asked to explain why the patent answer was always "Do You want to WORK or not"..Yup Also occoured while working construction on Holidays like Christmas and New Years for straight pay. I experienced that stuff in North Califonia.. Yup.!
Submitted by SAM at: January 24, 2013
I will tell you in the face of what happen. Many of the DOD and DOS standards have changed. You learn being a contractor overseas or a wife of one that there are good companies to work for and then there are ones you don't want to touch with a ten foot pool. Most of these contracts also come up for bid once a year leaving many contractors not knowing who they will be working for from year to year or month to month. The big issue I have with many of these contracts is that there is no insurance givin to the contractor or the family back home. We are left to fend for ourselves. Even though you are an American, working on an American Contract via DOD, DOS, Dept of the Army or so on. More then 90% are not given a choice to get any type of insurance. This is one of many problem. Most of these contracts are writen to pay a flat rate per day. No matter what. It is the life of a contractor many of us know it. I will tell you that the GB companies I have found to be some of the better. While the American will hire more 3rd world nationals to do the job instead of looking in their own back yard. Or Pay the lowest amount to an untrained person. Look at Blackwater who has changed their name and is still in operation today.
Submitted by Hoosier84 at: January 24, 2013
POGO has been a champion of the 'lowest price, technically acceptable' contracting that has done so much damage to U.S. policies. The Commission on Wartime Contracting and, more recently, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton all said lowest price requirements makes for horrendously bad contracting - especially for security contractors. While we don't know the merits of this lawsuit yet, many of the allegations related to the troubled Kabul Embassy contracts can be directly traced to U.S. government clients undermining their own contractors by trying to weasel the cheapest contract possible. POGO should take a stand in support of 'Best Value' contracting and then, most importantly, support the government professionals who put their careers on the line by selecting better proposals instead of the absolute cheapest contract deals they can find.
Submitted by Bob Bauman at: January 23, 2013
Interesting story. Even though the employees were not paid for the extra hours worked, I bet that the contractor charged the State Department for those extra hours marked up with overhead.
Submitted by Pam Baragona at: January 23, 2013
It is puzzling to me how a private security company out of Great Britain can receive hundred's of millions from US taxpayers to guarantee protection to our most important diplomatic personnel yet not hire enough people to do the job. Where did all the money go? This smells pretty bad. Reminders of what little oversight has been done in the area of private foreign contracting to hold anyone accountable for blatant problems and abuses. The question I am wondering with this lawsuit is how are the affected American workers for the company going to be able to find justice? As of today, no foreign contractor can jurisdictionally be brought into a US court unless they have a presence in the state the suit was filed. And what about immunity that may have been a part of the contract...Sounds like a long long battle

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