Let's imagine that you're an IT programming consultant working an old contract that was negotiated by your parent organization. If your client asks you to do something that doesn't normally fall into your area of expertise--such as interrogating or torturing people who are the prisoners of your client--how do you write up your hours?
Well, that's exactly what the U.S. Department of the Interior (DOI) is currently investigating, according to spokesman Frank Quimby. According to the DOI, the Army seems to have used a $500 million outsourcing contract for IT-specific services to hire the Arlington, Virginia-based CACI International Inc., and the interrogators who were used in the Abu Ghraib prison near Baghdad were actually employed under that IT contract.
Winning Contracts by Buying IT Service Companies
According to Quimby, the initial IT services contract was awarded in 1998 to Fairfax, Virginia-based Premier Technology Group, Inc. One presumes that these services were for programming, system management, and other IT network consulting.
However, in 2003, as the United States was going to war with Iraq, Premier Technology Group was purchased by CACI International, and--according to the DOI--11 out of the 81 orders since issued under that original Premier Technology Group contract have been fulfilled in Iraqi conflict. Two of these orders included the procurement of services for the prison interrogators who are the central characters in the investigation of abuse and torture of Iraqi citizens at the Abu Ghraib prison.
New IT Outsourcing Requests to CICA Denied
In the growing scandal of prisoner abuse within Iraq, the role of the private contractors used by the CIA and the Army is coming under increasing scrutiny. As a result, the issue of new requests for services under the original Premier Technology contract will be denied until the DOI has completed its review of the scope of the original contract.
"This is not a criminal investigation," Quimby was reported to have said. "It is a management review and audit to see if all of the rules and regulations were followed and whether this was an inappropriate contract vehicle to provide these services."
How Could This Have Happened in the First Place?
According to Quimby, the contracting officers in the Army itself were responsible for determining whether the services sought actually fit within the scope of work defined in the contract. It is not yet clear if this IT contract included definitions that would fit the scope of the abuse that followed.
"In this case, the contracting officer determined that the interrogators would be using the IT equipment provided by the contract by entering information into databases, analyzing the information collected using IT software, and disseminating the intelligence to other military commands using the IT systems," Quimby said.
Beyond the Un-written Contract Clause
But, considering what resulted in the Iraqi prison, it's hard to believe that such "services" as prisoner interrogation, abuse, and/or torture would have been written into any "normal" IT contract. And using the justifying rationale that--after these "services" were delivered--the interrogator would be writing these activities up using IT equipment is certainly a stretch of credulity. Instead, it appears that the Army was using any contractual arrangement--even a benign, pre-existing IT services contract--to justify its need for increased intelligence personnel.
Growing the Outsourcing Industry
What's not being investigated is whether CACI procured Premier Technology simply because it had already had the $500 million contract with the Army and then altered its service offerings to exploit the Army's need for interrogators. Such is the suspicion that some industry analysts are now expressing, and the implications for other government outsourcing contracts are staggering.
Outsourcing is already suffering a black eye within the domestic IT industry as United States programmers and operations personnel continue to struggle to compete with low-cost foreign outsourcing organizations. In addition, IBM and others recently procured large outsourcing organizations in India, Pakistan, and China for call centers, IT technical support services, and other offerings. Many of these procuring organizations claim that the lower cost will enable them to retrain current workers for the new jobs that are growing in the rebounding U.S. economy.
The Future of the RPG Contractor?
But if the example of the U.S. Army's use of IT contracts is a measure of the kind of jobs that are being purchased under government IT outsourcing services, it's clear that brushing up on the use of RPG (Report Program Generator) may soon mean hands-on training of a different sort: Rocket-Propelled Grenades.
Of course, I may be way off base in my assessment, but something smells pretty rotten about this arrangement. And don't get me wrong! I sincerely support our sons and daughters who are struggling in a very difficult theater of war.
However, in my long career as an IT consultant, the most severe torture I ever inflicted upon my clients or their "users" was making them read the manual.
Real IT Out-Sorcery
What's been revealed by this DOI investigation is that the real magic in outsourcing may not be lowering costs at all, but in positioning your organization to sell anything and everything the government desires for the highest possible price and then to call it "IT outsourcing " to get it past the government accounting police.
But then, that's not really IT outsourcing, is it? It's really IT out-sorcery!
Thomas M. Stockwell is Editor in Chief of MC Press Online, LP.