Top House appropriators are promising to resist the award of a huge Afghanistan training contract to the firm formerly known as Blackwater.
In an interview before leaving on his trip to Afghanistan and Pakistan, Rep. James Moran, D-VA, now the third ranking Democrat on the House Appropriations Defense subcommittee, said he will lead a charge to deny the company Xe, Blackwater's new moniker, from an estimated $1 billion funds if they are somehow awarded the contract.
"There is substantial sentiment among the Democratic subcommittee members to resist if the Defense Department were to award this contract to Blackwater," Moran told The Cable. He is traveling now with new subcommittee chairman Norm Dicks, D-WA, who took over for the recently deceased John Murtha.
If Secretary Robert Gates were to allow the contract to go Blackwater, "I think the issue would just escalate," Moran said, adding, "He'd have to be political brain dead to award them this."
Moran raised the issue with Gates last week, as did Senate Armed Service Committee chairman Carl Levin, D-MI, who spent 90 minutes with Gates only days before sending him this scathing letter about the company and its prospects.
In the letter, Levin wrote that Blackwater was already performing some of the duties under a contract vehicle issued by the Counter-Narcoterrorism Technology Office, part of the Army's Space and Missile Defense Command. The use of that contract for training Afghan's police is already a violation, according to a company protesting the contract, Levin wrote.
Regardless, when the State Department transitions the mission fully over to Pentagon responsibility with the new $1 billion award, Blackwater is said to be a competitive bidder, raising concerns due to their seemingly constant string of scandals involving the use of lethal force in Iraq and Afganistan.
"It would really be a travesty if any federal agency contracted with Blackwater again," explained Moran, "They'll be seen as representing America. They don't. They're not what the American people are about."
Moran said there are several defense firms that are in competition for the contract, including Lockheed and Northrop Grumman. "The Defense Department has some fine choices available. Blackwater is not one of them."
As part of his criticism of Blackwater, Levin also wrote to Attorney General Eric Holder to investigate whether Blackwater created a shell company called Paravant, at the request of Raytheon Corporation, in order to secure government contracts without having to use Blackwater's tarnished name.
From Levin's letter to Holder:
Fred Roitz, Blackwater's Vice President for Contracts and Compliance, testified at the Committee's hearing that Blackwater had changed its name to Paravant at the request of Raytheon, the Defense Department's prime contractor. In his interview with Committee staff, then-Paravant Vice President Brian McCracken said that Paravant was created to be a "company that didn't have any Blackwater on it ... so they could go after some [government] business that Raytheon was getting ready to hand out."
John Hudson reports on national security and foreign policy from the Pentagon to Foggy Bottom, the White House to Embassy Row, for The Cable.