Wednesday, August 17, 2011

As if we needed more bad news about the ANP

How do you take a massive government project that is failing and ensure that it fails more and better in the future? You transition the contract between departments with little oversight or planning and then allow the contractor to fail to fully staff it. So says the IGs of the Departments of State and Defense on the perennially challenged Afghan National Police training program.

Let's start with the basics on this roughly $300 million per year program. It was started, as most police training programs are, by the Department of State's Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs (INL). This Assistant Secretariat is staffed by hardworking Americans that are Foreign Service Officers - not experts on policing generally speaking (there are of course, a number of these FSOs who have become so in their tenure at INL, but this is the exception in my experience here in DC and in the field). Between this lack of expertise and their organizational structure, they are incapable of in-sourcing police development programs. This has led to their becoming a contracting agency for DoS, which has brings us to these massive outsourcing contracts - primarily to DynCorps. Challenge number one is having a government agency with little expertise in a discipline overseeing a ~1000 person contract conducting that discipline. Without getting onto my training versus development soap box, in my mind this is one of the greatest reasons the ANP are still a failure throughout most of Afghanistan.

So it's not working and the powers that be decide that maybe DoD should take over the contracting responsibilities for training the ANP. DoD is a big organization that handles lots of ginormous contracts, so it should work. Right? Wrong. Let's now talk about another organization that knows next to nothing about policing. I've written before about the large differences between the police and the military - the fact that they're both in uniforms and armed does not mean that they are interchangeable. If you doubt this, just take a look at Iraq's police or read this excellent paper by the brilliant Bill Rosenau. From a performance monitoring perspective, this transition will likely not change the outlook for ANP training in the coming years from its DoS days.

Now that we've argued that two departments who have owned this contract don't really know what they're doing, let's take a quick look at the IG report (quick because the bean counting stuff puts me to sleep).
  • Finding A: DoD and DoS did not sufficiently plan for the transition. A billion dollars over three years for the program that more than one senior official has billed as our exit strategy. How does this happen? This is how you take a bad program and make it worse. Read the rest of this section - this is almost criminal.
  • Finding B: Additional personnel needed for program management and contract oversight. We're looking at oversight organizations that don't know much about the topic they're contracting and then they're not even staffing them to do the basic oversight work such as processing paperwork.
Successful police development is one of the major keys to our withdrawal from Afghanistan. And yet we're still doing train and equip programs through contractors who are understaffed and receive oversight from government organizations who don't very well understand what they're supposed to do. Now we see that a significant event in all of this that was designed to improve how things were being done was absolutely fumbled and still not corrected as of this week. It is apparent that the U.S. is still not serious about the Afghan National Police as a viable force to assume responsibilities after we transition responsibility. So let's get this right very quickly or think about not wasting any more money on this endeavor.

5 comments:

  1. Excellent post, and of course this isn't a problem isolated to policing - the general pattern of dysfunction can be found in a number of other realms (some security assistance programs; most USAID programs; some other civilian technical assistance programs).

    Question though: what do we need to do to fix it? At minimum, it strikes me that the conviction that a smart generalist can oversee a program on which he or she is not an expert is patently false, but that implies a major reevaluation of how DOS (and some other agencies) are organized and do business.

    Even more radically - have contractors ever done a good job on police reform?

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  2. Geez, MK. I was having a healthy bitch session on my soap box and you want policy solutions?? Okay, fine.

    You're right that this isn't only in the policing world - but that just happens to be what I know best. And how to fix this? I think it would start with giving DoJ and DHS (God help us all) international operations funding for police development. Right now they're contractors of last resort for DoS even though they're the real expertise. This is, as you know, unlikely to ever happen for both some real and fake parochial reasons. There are some middle steps that could be taken, but that would involve INL not being as intransigent as they normally are as an organization.

    And I can't think of a single serious contracted training program success. They've not done a terrible job every time at bat, but minor successes have been rare and been in countries with high literacy and small populations. In other words, not in places like Afghanistan.

    There's a whole to it than all of this, but in my mind's eye these are the big picture issues.

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  3. This is an important and timely post. As MK has noted in the other comment thread, this subject overlaps significantly with the conversation we're having about "Afghanization" and State/DoD lead on various capacity-building efforts.

    I haven't read the report in full and wasn't even aware of its publication until you linked to it here, Jason, so I appreciate you bringing it to everyone's attention.

    Some initial thoughts:

    Between this lack of expertise and their organizational structure, they are incapable of in-sourcing police development programs. This has led to their becoming a contracting agency for DoS, which has brings us to these massive outsourcing contracts - primarily to DynCorps.

    This is obviously a challenge, though it's tough to really consider it a "failure" per se because it's not what the State Department is set up to do. As you know, the reason the military inherits a lot of the implementation of these sorts of things is because it's the only part of the USG that is expeditionary in design, intent, and function. The vast majority of DOS personnel cannot be described as "operational" in any way -- it's like if you took DOD and took away all the uniformed personnel. I wrote about this a little bit here.

    Challenge number one is having a government agency with little expertise in a discipline overseeing a ~1000 person contract conducting that discipline.

    I actually kinda think of this as problem number two, because it's a different one from not having the personnel or the organizational orientation to in-source the training function. But you're right: this is a problem. Unfortunately it's not clear that there's anyone else in government that's better suited to manage that sort of contract. Afghanistan may be a little bit anomalous because it's a war zone and you're teaching paramilitary skills as much as policing techniques, so it's easy to say "oh, the military can do it." But can they? Or do you simply end up with a whole lot of Afghan soldiers, with some of them wearing police uniforms?

    Without getting onto my training versus development soap box, in my mind this is one of the greatest reasons the ANP are still a failure throughout most of Afghanistan.

    There are a lot of reasons related to the way the U.S. has executed the training/capacity-building program, but I'd suggest that the main reasons for the ANP's failure are circumstantial and structural. The fact that this training mission is taking place in a country that's been trying to stand up entirely new security forces during wartime is obviously a huge challenge, as is the fact that the ANA is trying to recruit and retain folks at the same time the ANP is. The paramilitary vice policing thing I mentioned earlier causes its own set of problems, too, as does the low quality of the raw material you're working with (from a literacy and sobriety perspective, etc.). We've done a lot of stuff poorly, sure, and we've amplified the difficulties through our own poor performance and mismanagement. But let's not pretend like U.S. failures are the only reason the ANP isn't the second coming of the NYPD.

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  4. DOD's unsuitability to either manage the contracts or actually perform the training is worth disussing, but again I think it's important that we draw a distinction between those two types of tasks. There's been some talk about trying to apply reservists who are civilian police officers to this task, but there are a whole bunch of problems with that model. And reserve brigades have had the police training mission in the past, to middling effect. But the whole soldiering/policing distinction and the problems we have with it are obvious when you look at the record of the 4th BCT of the 82d Abn Div, which was sent to Afghanistan as an "SFA brigade" and split up such that some units were partnered with ANA in RC-South while others were partnered with ANP in RC-West. (The whole plan was eventually scrapped and they were reconstituted as a brigade for full-spectrum ops in RC-South, which you can read about elsewhere, but I digress.) The brigade trained for Afghanistan together; i.e. the guys focused on training cops, the guys focused on training soldiers, and the guys focused on aggressive combat patrolling in the Arghandab Valley all got ready for deployment in the same way. Anything wrong with that picture?

    As for the DOJ/DHS guys not being used effectively -- Jason and I have talked about this and I simply don't understand it. If the justification was that they're not organized or trained or manned to do a large-scale mission in a combat zone like Afghanistan, then ok, I understand that. But it seems like there are a bunch of other bureaucratic hang-ups, and I understand that a lot less.

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  5. I'm starting to wonder just what we will leave behind when we withdraw and how durable that all will be.

    Will we be there in some small way for a long time, do you all think, or will it all fall apart?

    What I find interesting is that beneath the publicized drama, we are doubling down next door with drones. How long do you suppose that will go on and is that really our unspoken supposed exit plan? Whatever deal we cut next door?

    I still don't understand how a successful police force will be built since policing is such a localized activity and our presence is not deeply embedded within varied locales. It's a few security bubbles (inkspots?) at best.

    Just rambling....

    Hope you all are well.

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