Combatant Commanders Must Open Up to Communication with Contractors
If Afghanistan is the future of U.S. conflicts, contractors will be indispensable. At the end of 2016, DOD contractor personnel outnumbered U.S. Armed Forces personnel at almost 3 to 1 in the Afghan theater.
U.S. Forces-Afghanistan began vetting contractors in 2010 following allegations that contractors paid bribes and gave kickbacks to the Taliban and other insurgent groups. New legislation (the National Defense Authorization Act for 2012, Section 841) allows the CENTCOM Commander to identify contractors who support the insurgency and oppose U.S. and coalition forces. U.S. Forces in Afghanistan initially made public the companies and individuals whom it had identified as problematic. Here is a link to the Identified Entities list.
An “Identified Entities” list makes sense. It allows prime contractors to conduct due diligence and avoid subcontracting with unsavory companies. Unfortunately, in 2013, U.S. Forces-Afghanistan opted not to list companies and switched to a more secretive vendor vetting process. Under the vendor vetting process, the government does not inform prime contractors of problems with prospective subcontractors, except in limited circumstances.
This covert approach places prime contractors at a serious disadvantage. Choose a listed subcontractor (unknowingly) and risk losing out on contract because the subcontractor has a poor vendor vetting rating. A subcontractor who is unaware of his poor rating is unable to promptly challenge the rating or make internal changes. Vendor Clearance attorneys strongly believe that CENTCOM and other combatant commands should change the current cloak and dagger approach to government contracting. An otherwise diligent and effective contractor can find itself unable to perform on existing contracts because it unknowingly hired a subcontractor who received a bad vendor vetting rating. This contractor risks losing the contract or being barred itself from base access due to its connection with the subcontractor, which disrupts contract delivery and negatively affects the mission. Open communication, on the other hand with contractors, will make contractors partners in excluding problematic subcontractors and will prevent these entities from even beginning performance on a U.S. government contract. It will lead to better vetting and a more secure force.