Inquiry targets Va. contractor at Iraq jail

CACI hired interrogators to question prisoners

Probe by Interior Department

May 26, 2004|By Scott Shane | Scott Shane,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

The inspector general of the Interior Department has opened an inquiry into why the department approved the hiring of interrogators to question Iraqi prisoners under a contract for computer services, officials announced yesterday.

The review targets a long-term "blanket purchase agreement" for information technology with Virginia-based CACI International, which provided interrogators to Abu Ghraib prison and other detention facilities in Iraq.

The agreement was established with the Army in 1998 but renewed by the Department of Interior in 2001 when Interior took over the Army contracting office at Fort Huachuca, Ariz.

"We've assigned a team of auditors to look at the specifications of the contract and see why the Department of Interior is operating a procurement center in an area they may not have expertise in," said Pam Boteler, director of external affairs for Interior's inspector general.

Boteler said the inquiry will not cover allegations of misconduct by a CACI interrogator, Steven Stefanowicz. An Army report alleges that Stefanowicz encouraged military police officers at Abu Ghraib to physically abuse detainees and lied to investigators. Through his attorney, Stefanowicz has denied any wrongdoing, and he has not been charged with a crime.

Because the law governing crimes by contractors overseas, the Military Extraterritorial Jurisdiction Act, covers Department of Defense contractors, it is unclear whether it can be applied to contractors, such as CACI, that are technically working for the Department of the Interior.

Interior spokesman Frank Quimby said his department considers the Army to be a party to the contract but will let the Department of Justice determine whether the law applies. The Justice Department said last week that a contract worker in Iraq is under criminal investigation but did not name the person or his employer.

Quimby said no new work will be permitted under the blanket purchase agreement with CACI International until the inquiry is completed. People hired under the contract - including CACI's 27 interrogators in Iraq - will be allowed to complete their scheduled work, he said.

In a telephone briefing for reporters, Quimby acknowledged that an Interior contracting officer had only "infrequent and sporadic" communication with Army representatives overseeing the CACI work in Iraq. "But the Department of the Interior received no signs that anything was amiss with contract performance," he said.

Quimby said the Army is required to report to Interior "incidents of faulty or nonconforming work, delays or problems," but didn't in the case of CACI.

After the prison abuse scandal arose, Interior's contracting officer contacted the Army to ask if it was satisfied with CACI's services. The Army said yes, Quimby said.

Quimby said about $3.3 million has been paid to CACI for interrogation and related services under two of 81 "delivery orders" since 2001 that are part of the blanket purchase agreement. Though the sum is tiny by comparison with the billions being spent on contractors in Iraq, the case shows how government contractors are given new work under long-term contracts without new competitive bidding.

A blanket purchase agreement "is a standard contracting tool used by many agencies when purchasing on a repeat basis ... a predefined set of goods and services," he said. He said Interior's contracting officer at Fort Huachuca approved the interrogation work because it included "information technology aspects."

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