• State Department Mismanages Food Contract in Iraq

    August 31, 2011

    Tags: , ,
    Posted in: Afghanistan, Democracy, Embassy/State, Iraq, Military, Other Ideas

    Who doesn’t like free food? One of the best things about working at the World’s Largest Embassy in Baghdad © is free food. Peter devotes most of a chapter in his book to food in Iraq, as his cholesterol count after a year there is higher than his pre-sales.

    At the Embassy (World’s Largest ©) you can feed off a buffet miles long, or, if walking or riding the hovercart shuttle to the buffet is inconvenient, sandwiches, Pop Tarts and all sorts of goodies are available at three Grab-‘n-Goes located right inside the office buildings. It’s like taking an all-inclusive cruise, where stewards stuff food into your mouth while you sleep.

    The problem is freedom isn’t free, especially the freedom to pound down six free meals a day whilst conducting diplomacy. The purveyor of said food, mega-contractor KBR, has pocketed some $37 billion dollars of taxpayer money. And guess what—an Office of the Inspector General (OIG) report has found that this figure includes waste and mismanagement on the part of the State Department.

    Happy Meals

    The fun starts in that State’s contract with KBR says that total meals cost per person per day should be $20. This is hilarious. Breakfast at the Embassy offers made-to-order omelets, a waffle station, pancakes, fresh fruit and all sorts of extras. Lunch usually included two hot entrees, a hamburger station, a sandwich bar, salad bar, dessert bar, ice cream and every type of beverage. Dinner also rocked two hot entrees, including lobster and crab legs on Sundays, steak sometimes, the burger bar, an Indian food bar, salad bar, plus the aforementioned desserts and drinks. In between meals snacks were always available. You’d have a hard time doing all that for $20 a day at McDonald’s, never mind in a war zone where everything had to be trucked in from Kuwait.

    But since the contract had to do with the amount of food prepared, not “meals” eaten, State found a nice solution: just have everyone clock in for a “meal” every time they consume anything. Grab a Diet Coke, clock in as if it was your second lunch. There were ads in the Embassy newsletter asking people to do this; the OIG found one guy who clocked in for 25 meals in two days. The net result is that the ratio of “meals” to people changes, and the official cost per meal appears to go down to near $20. It was a lie. The OIG found $970,000 in overages here.

    Feed the World

    The OIG also found that State was lax about just who got to feed from its trough-o’-cornucopia. The contract with KBR provided for most Embassy staff and any uniformed military around to eat free. It turns out that the OIG found that 80 percent of the cafeteria denizens were contractors, some of whom were also being paid by State for their meals. In other words, State paid them a meals per diem and then also fed them. Double cost to the Government! Ten points to Slytherin!

    This was possible because of lazy entrance control. The door was policed when Peter was in Baghdad by a KBR staffer, not a State employee. The main person was a delightful Bosnian young woman, skillful with her makeup and always nicely dressed. She greeted everyone, was the subject of much attention by the male soldiers, and was always friendly when someone showed up having forgotten his/her ID.

    Then again, no one could have really told her who to admit legally anyway; the OIG found State maintained no up-to-date registry of those who are authorized to receive food service support under the LOGCAP contract. The OIG team reviewed the Table of Population (an appendix to task order 151), which is supposed to list organizations eligible for food service support. The team found in 2010 that the table was out-of-date with listings of organizations ranging back to 2006-07.

    Hand Head Count

    The great news is that while the contract required State to maintain an automated method of counting diners, State just did not do it, letting the contractor send an employee from Bosnia to handle things. State paid the contractor for anyone the contractor let in to eat. The automated system required would not have been hard to implement, as the military in Iraq had one they used all over the country with simple, off the shelf technology. State just didn’t bother.


    So how much did all of this free food cost you, the taxpayer? When OIG reviewed food services, equipment and facilities maintenance, and fuel operations, the team was unable to make definitive conclusions because of a lack of available data. For example, in food services, KBR’s headcount records from meals consumed do not match dining facility account records, and OIG was unable to reconcile the difference. These discrepancies suggest that in FY 2009 there were $2.23 million in unsupported food costs but really, with the sloppy record keeping, who knows? In fact, some of the OIG’s primary recommendations to State were to demand from KBR the data needed to actually figure out if the Government is being cheated or not.

    Food Fight

    …and we care because?

    Because State will inherit contracts from the Army for logistics that run into the tens of millions of dollars and that’s a lot of money. Because the State Occupation of Iraq, and State work in Afghanistan, will depend on contractors to succeed, and sloppy mismanagement means that not only will the money be flushed away, but also that the mission will fail.

    Gotta watch the money. Follow the money. It’s all about the money, kiddos.

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  • Recent Comments

    • State Department Mismanages Food Contract in Iraq | Private Security Jobs said...


      […] State Department Mismanages Food Contract in Iraq […]

      09/2/11 8:17 AM | Comment Link

    • Andrew said...


      Great post Peter, and way to highlight a valuable product of the OIG. Hardship tours are tough and good food plays a part in morale, but practices like this are simply wasteful. Sadly issues such as poor food accountability and “menu creep” in forward-based dining facilities have been around for a while and the reactions from leadership have been both fitful and milquetoast.


      09/2/11 5:03 PM | Comment Link

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