Pentagon: British firm billed US $50M for iffy expenses
Washington — A British company hired to train Afghan intelligence officers billed the U.S. government for high-end cars, including Porsches and an Aston Martin, and paid the “significant others” of the firm’s top executives six-figure salaries even though there’s no proof they did any work, according to details of a Pentagon audit made public Wednesday.
Sen. Clarie McCaskill, D-Mo., said New Century Consulting also spent $42,000 on automatic weapons, using cash to get around a prohibition in the contract on purchasing the firearms, and showered other personnel with hefty pay and bonuses they hadn’t earned. Overall, the military contractor “left taxpayers on the hook for over $50 million in questionable costs,” McCaskill said in a statement.
McCaskill, the top Democrat on the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, summarized the audit’s major findings in a letter to Defense Secretary Jim Mattis. She demanded to know which Defense Department office was responsible for overseeing the contractor, what steps are being taken to recover the disputed payments, and whether New Century Consulting will face disciplinary action.
Michael Grunberg, chief executive officer of New Century Consulting, said the company is being portrayed unfairly and that it strives to follow federal acquisition rules. Grunberg said it “is most unfair and is significantly inaccurate” that the executive assistants received excessive salaries.
He said the audit “questioned solely the use and depreciation treatment of vehicles” and that New Century Consulting “accounted for no more than three vehicles across the entire business at any one time.” The purchase of the weapons was done properly and at the direction of the U.S.-led command overseeing the training and equipping of the Afghan security forces, according to Grunberg.
McCaskill’s disclosure of the audit’s key findings is a rare glimpse into the opaque world of battlefield contracting. Contractors are indispensable in Afghanistan, handling security, transportation, construction and more. Yet the Defense Department has faced widespread criticism that it often fails to perform rigorous oversight of the companies and how exactly U.S. taxpayer dollars are spent.
The report also comes amid the tense debate inside the Trump administration over the way ahead in Afghanistan. Two of President Donald Trump’s most senior advisers — chief strategist Steve Bannon and son-in-law Jared Kushner — have been advocating for military contractors to fight the war there instead of American forces.
The United States has about 8,400 troops in Afghanistan, and so far Trump has resisted the Pentagon’s recommendations to send as many as 4,000 more. The Associated Press reported last week that Blackwater Worldwide founder Erik Prince, the brother of Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, was approached by Trump’s top advisers to develop proposals to gradually swap out U.S. troops and put contractors in their place.
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