I-Report: Bill honoring slain Marine passes in House

May 27, 2011 4:35:43 PM PDT
As Memorial Day weekend begins, legislation is moving through congress that could save the lives of countless American soldiers.

The law would regulate employment of foreign security contractors. It has been more than a year since the ABC7 I-Team discovered that Afghanistan security guards -- paid by the Pentagon and high on opium -- had shot and killed Indiana marine Lance Corporal Josh Birchfield.

In Friday's intelligence report: As America prepares to remember those who have lost their lives in battle, will Birchfield's legacy become a new law?

His gravesite in Westville, Ind., will be a gathering place for friends and family this Memorial Day, but for Josh Birchfield -- just 24 when he was killed on patrol -- his wider legacy is being written in Washington.

"This is not supposed to happen. There is almost no training at all for these individuals," said Rep. Joe Donnolley, D-Ind., in an interview on February 23 about Birchfield.

Indiana congressman Joe Donnelly wrote an amendment in Birchfield's memory to the National Defense Aauthorization Act, that passed the U.S. House of Representatives this week.

    The Donnelly amendment would:
  • Set uniform standards for all private security contracts funded by the department of defense.
  • Security contracts would require designated personnel to oversee performance and reliability.
  • Direct the secretary of defense to appoint a single official overseas who would review private security contracts to ensure compliance and that all licenses and permits were current and authentic.

"There's contractors like him all over the country and part of what we're trying to do is make sure this never happens again," Donnelly said.

What happened to Birchfield was during a routine patrol near a road project guarded by heavily armed private Afghan officers who had been hired by the Pentagon.

"When I did talk to him in phone conversations, which were brief, told me it was like the wild, wild west over there. He told me you could go into a village and you don't know who's got a gun and who doesn't, and they're not a trusted people," said Birchfield's father Bruce back in February.

Faheem, 19, his face shielded by Afghan authorities to protect his privacy-was convicted in an afghan court and sentenced to 15 years for killing josh birchfield.

According to this final military report, Faheem had "a bag of opium in his left front pocket" when he was arrested and that he was a daily opium user.

On Friday night, ABC7 I-Team discovered new information on the Afghan guards on duty when Birchfield was killed. Despite having been hired under a Pentagon contract, they were all unlicensed. The contractor told military investigators that he didn't even know where to obtain licenses.

Additionally, Donnelly says defense officials have finally told him who paid for the Afghan guards. They were hired under a program called CERP, or Commanders Emergency Response Program, intended for humanitarian relief.

Cites death of Marine from north central Indiana as cause for legislation requiring better oversight of private security contractors

WASHINGTON - Today, Congressman Joe Donnelly offered an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2012, H.R. 1540, legislation authorizing Pentagon programs for the coming year and setting forth our nation's defense policies and priorities. Donnelly's amendment would direct the Department of Defense (DOD) to devise a comprehensive strategy setting out standards for oversight plans governing all private security contracts funded by the DOD and designate a single official in the country of operations with the responsibility of certifying that each private security contract has an effective oversight plan and that the contractor's employees are properly licensed and permitted to do their work.

"A brave Marine from my district, Lance Corporal Joshua Birchfield, lost his life when an Afghan private security contractor -- unlicensed, poorly trained, and an alleged regular drug user -- shot and killed him while he was on patrol with his unit not far from his base," said Donnelly. "I believe we owe it to our men and women serving in harm's way to ensure that those whom the U.S. Government pays to provide security are subject to more rigorous oversight to ensure reliability, effectiveness, and safety."

According to the Congressional Research Service, the DOD currently relies on 19,000 private security contractors in Afghanistan, a force equal to almost 20 percent of all U.S. military personnel in that country. The ratio of armed contractors to U.S. forces is higher in Afghanistan than it ever was in Iraq, and 95 percent of the security contractors in Afghanistan are Afghans -- a significantly higher reliance on local security contractors than Iraq.

In 2008, Congress passed legislation requiring improved oversight of private security contractors from the DOD. While the DOD has implemented some changes, the Government Accountability Office currently considers the specific recommendations on regulating security contractors, including the screening, training, equipping and oversight of contractors, either only partially implemented or not implemented at all.

"If we are going to continue to rely on local security contractors in Afghanistan, we must make oversight a top priority," Donnelly continued. "I cannot say for certain that had there been better oversight by our government this tragedy would have been avoided, but we owe it to our servicemen and women in harm's way to get this right. I believe DOD must significantly improve the oversight of private security contractors."

    To address this issue, Donnelly's amendment to H.R. 1540 would do two things:
  • First, his amendment directs the Secretary of Defense to establish a Quality Assurance Surveillance Plan that would set uniform standards for contract oversight plans for all private security contracts funded by the Department of Defense in Afghanistan and in any future country of operations. Beyond just ensuring that paperwork is in order, all security contracts would require plans clearly laying out an oversight strategy and designating sufficient personnel to exercise the oversight necessary to ensure contract performance and reliability.
  • Second, his amendment directs the Secretary of Defense to designate a single official in the country of operations with the responsibility of reviewing private security contracts to ensure compliance with the Quality Assurance Surveillance Plan. Further, this official must certify that he or she has reviewed the oversight plan for a security contract, that the oversight plan is appropriate for that contract, that there is an appropriate number of trained personnel available to oversee that contract, and confirm that any and all licenses and permits required of a security contractor and its employees have been reviewed and verified as current and authentic.

Click here to read Donnelly's statement submitted during debate of the amendment. The Congressional Budget Office reviewed Donnelly's amendment and concluded that it does not increase direct spending and does not add to the deficit. Donnelly's amendment passed by voice vote as a part of a package of amendments and will be included in the final version of the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2012, which will be voted on tomorrow.

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