Police Academy: A Comedy of Errors

The Washington Post highlights yet another case of a greedy contractor coupled with poor oversight by the Corps of Engineers.

Even though the Baghdad Police College was touted to be one of the success stories in what the US military termed the “year of the police,” the reality looks much different. In a report to be issued next week, the special inspector general for Iraq reconstruction Stuart W. Bowen Jr. will be calling the project a disaster.

The contractor, Parsons Corp., has been implicated in previous construction failures including prisons, clinics and hospitals, was charged with rebuilding the 1930s era police college. It didn’t go very well.

The Parsons contract, which eventually totaled at least $75 million, was terminated May 31 “due to cost overruns, schedule slippage, and sub-standard quality,” according to a Sept. 4 internal military memo. But rather than fire the Pasadena, Calif.-based company for cause, the contract was halted for the government’s convenience.”

Col. Michael Herman — deputy commander of the Gulf Region Division of the Corps of Engineers, which was supposed to oversee the project — said the Iraqi subcontractors hired by Parsons were being forced to fix the building problems as part of their warranty work, at no cost to taxpayers. He said four of the eight barracks have been repaired.

The U.S. military initially agreed to take a Washington Post reporter on a tour of the facility Wednesday to examine the construction issues, but the trip was postponed Tuesday night. Federal investigators who visited the academy last week, though, expressed concerns about the structural integrity of the buildings and worries that fecal residue could cause a typhoid outbreak or other health crisis. [my emphasis]

I wonder if the phrase “the governments convenience” is double talk for “You screwed up so badly we never want to see you again!” or simply “Ooops, You got caught.” I also note the people being called to task here are the Iraqi subcontractors and not Parsons. I wonder why. Are the Parsons people better connected? The Iraqis are thrilled, I’m sure.

What probably happened was a combination of inexperience and mismanagement. Many of the people directly involved in the project were probably new to something of this scale* and started off doing a good job, or at least trying to do a good job. As things started to slide, they attempted to get help or at least tell someone what was going on. Management responded with, we can’t give you more time, there is no more money, just get the job done. Just like every other government contract. Eventually even the most motivated just pushed paper and waited for the contract to end. What I call an internal resignation; you still go to work, get your paycheck but you no longer mentally work for the company, you’ve already quit.

 *Let’s face it, how many people do you need to rebuild a country. The good ones with experiance are pretty far and wide and  have probably gone home to better jobs leaving the rest to the newbies.

I think it’s the amount of government reconstruction in Iraq that is causing much of the problem. I doubt that many of these projects are that much worse than any other large scale construction project. But, since almost everything in Iraq needs rebuilt, all of these projects are simultaneously crashing. It highlights the failures of ‘business as usual’ both on the sides of the contractors and on the side of the government.

I’d love to believe that the individuals in the Corps of Engineers are simply stretched far too thin and have neither support from the upper echelons nor the time to properly oversee all the construction activities. This coupled with an increasing frustration both with the war effort (Why are we here?) and from the Iraqi civilian population (Why are you here?). I’d like to believe that – but unfortunately the Corps is a huge bureaucracy and has never really been more than mediocre at overseeing projects. (Katrina anyone?)

At least this lined up with all the other Police Academies: absolutely humorless.

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