03/01/2012 09:25 am ET Updated May 01, 2012

The State Department Tells Us How They Really Felt: Part 3

After reading the previous articles in this series you might get the impression that sometimes private security contractors aren't worth hiring; at least judging by the ratings some of them have gotten. That, however, is not the impression you should walk away with.

Reality is both more complex and more ambiguous. The performance of any contractor is dependent on a variety of circumstances; the environment they find themselves in, the quality of their staff, their management procedures, the diligence of their clients in ensuring the contractor complies with the terms of the contract and a myriad of other factors.

Give the challenging circumstances contractors frequently encounter out in the field it is a tribute to the professionalism of most of them that they do as well as they do. The simple truth is that most of the time they do good, frequently great, jobs. And, sometimes, not nearly as often, they do lousy jobs.

Today, we look at a contractor that mostly did the former and some of the latter. Triple Canopy, along with Blackwater and DynCorp, was one of three vendors awarded the Worldwide Personal Protective Services contract by the State Department. During the period of this contact award, June 23, 2005 through June 22, 2010, it provided personal security details to State Department and Chief of Mission personnel in Basrah and Tallil, Iraq. For some of that time it was also providing services in Port-au-Prince, Haiti.

The State Department evaluation noted that it had "proved to be a flexible partner to Department of State deploying and redeploying personnel in and out of Iraq as the threat level varied. This flexibility has been noted in several commendations by our Contracting Officer."

Due to State Department needs TC redeployed personnel from the Basrah Task Order to an airbase in Tallil to begin missions from that location. The Evaluation says, "Triple Canopy has demonstrated the ability to work the most senior of principals, maintaining its trademark as the "quiet professionals."

When it came to ratings numbers TC maxed out. From 0 to 5 it received the following scores:

Quality of Product or Service, 4 = Excellent*

Given that the protective services provided by Triple Canopy are in an austere and hostile environment, they are to be commended on their professionalism

Cost Control, 4 = Excellent
Triple Canopy does an excellent job in cost control. They strive to provide protective services at a fair and reasonable price.

Timeliness of Performance, 5 = Outstanding**
Triple Canopy has met or exceeded all timelines presented to them. They have a can-do attitude and they always deliver on time

Business Relations, 4 = Excellent
Triple Canopy understands all too well the meaning of partnership. They have found ways to better the program as well as save the Government money only the way. [sic] The Triple Canopy Program Management Team strives to work in a timely and efficient manner to resolve problems and get the job done safely.

*Excellent is defined as "There are no cost management issues and the Contractor has exceeded the contract requirements, achieving cost savings to the Government.

** Outstanding is defined as "The contractor has demonstrated an outstanding performance that justifies adding a point to the score. It is expected that this rating will be used in those rare circumstances where the contractor has achieved cost savings and performance clearly exceeds the performance levels described as "Excellent".

Even at the level of subcontracts, an issue, where many prime contractors often fall flat on their faces, Triple Canopy scored high.

Von Liche is Triple Canopy's subcontractor who provides the EOD Canine services required under this contract and this company has provided outstanding services. This subcontractor is well managed by Triple Canopy.

However, on another evaluation, covering the period July 19, 2005 to Dec. 21, 2010 Triple Canopy's performance declined. One might say that like the Roman god Janus, it had two faces. This assessment found that with regard to quality:

During this rating period [25 November 2009 - 7 July 2010] Triple Canopy held the single largest Task Order under the WPPSII contract - Task Order 12. Throughout the rating period they never achieved full staffing as required by the Task Order. Despite several COR letters and weekly reminders, Triple Canopy continues to be understaffed in several labor categories. This was discussed with the company Director and CEO who agreed that systemic problems existed and who vowed to correct them. After a program office directed change in senior Local Program Management, TC appeared to be improving and, while Triple Canopy has yet to log a single day under TO 12 at full compliment, [sic] they are getting closer to that goal.

TC did even worse in cost control.

On May 22, 2009 the Department of State, the cognizant federal agency for Triple Canopy, Inc. (TC), requested a DCAA audit of T C's cost control environment and overall accounting system controls. An audit report was issued by DCAA on May 6, 2010 that identified material weaknesses with TC's Control Environment and Overall Accounting System and reported the accounting system inadequate. The material weaknesses identified in the DCAA's report may result in costs being misclassified, overbilled and unallowable on Government contracts and subcontracts.

The report is alarming because of the number of deficiencies in the contractor's accounting system. However, we reserve our full assessment of cost control until final reports are received that pertain to DCAA's audit of the contractor's billing system, labor system internal controls, subcontracts costs, and TC's compliance with the Cost Accounting Standards. Until such time a neutral rating for cost control is an adequate assessment.

And in terms of its personnel TC also had problems.

Throughout the period of review, the senior personnel on all Task Order, including the Local Program Manager (Task Order 1), have been relieved. Some were dismissed by the company for observed shortcomings, others have been removed by the Program Office. The common theme was TC's inability to provide quality management and leadership of its operations.

You can find both evaluations here.

So what does one conclude? TC was neither a saint nor a sinner. It did some outstanding work and it did some subpar work. In the case of the latter it worked to improve. Stuff happens. That's how life is.

From a taxpayer's perspective we can accept a company may try its best but it may still screw up. That is why any government contract must have sufficient, qualified contracting officers riding herd on the company. Note to company; don't ask us to just trust you. We don't give the government carte blanche so why would you expect us to give it to you.

The sooner both critics and supporters of industry understand and agree on that the better off we'll all be.

This is the fourth installment of documentation released to David Isenberg by the State Department, pursuant to a past FOIA request. For background see Part 1.

Read Part 2 here.