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U.S. Fails to Protect Workers in Antarctica

Posted March 31, 2011 By Ms Sparky

This is me (Ms Sparky) in 2002 at the top of the glacier that looms behind Palmer Station. Palmer Station is one of three NSF Stations in Antarctica and is located in Anvers Island. Palmer Station is accessed via the NSF ice breaker ship, RV Laurence M. Gould. Raytheon employees at Palmer are deployed from Punta Arenas, Chile, whereas employees at McMurdo and South Pole Stations are flown in from Christchurch, New Zealand.

I worked (wintered over) for Raytheon Polar Services at the National Science Foundation’s (NSF) Palmer Station, Antarctica in 2002. I know first hand the unique working conditions and safety hazards faced daily by employees at these U.S. stations. There is no hardware store or supply house down the street to get your parts and material from. If the person ordering parts for your job isn’t clear about the scope of the work, you may find yourself improvising. I also believe the NSF lacks in the oversight capabilities necessary to ensure all work is done to applicable codes and in a safe manner. Raytheon basically inspects themselves. Nothing independent about that!! They’ve gone unchecked for years. I know I brought several safety concerns to the attention of the Station Manager (a Raytheon employee) and was told “I just didn’t know how things were done down here!” (I think I worked for that same guy in Iraq!) I haven’t been following the Antarctica work much so I want to thank our friends at Defense Base Act Compensation Blog for bringing this story to my attention. Rumor has it KBR is bidding on this contract.

Ms Sparky

~By Sophia Tewa~ An unusual man, David Pecheco decided at the age of 50 that he wanted to live the rest of his life in the treacherous South Pole, his wife Tina by his side. In October 2003, he took a job as a journeyman plumber and moved to the McMurdo Station in the southernmost tip of Antarctica, the hub of the United States’ scientific research efforts in the region.

Palmer Station, Antarctica in the summer.

The thrill didn’t last long.  On the morning of January 28, 2007, David Pacheco was sent to an empty building to drain and put antifreeze on pipes without knowing that the electricity was still on. When the water slashed out of the pipes, it conducted two lines of 277 volts throughout his body.

He flew 20 feet in the air. For a minute his heartbeat stopped.

“Your brain works but your body doesn’t work and you start shaking like a fish and then you try to get up and you can’t,” he said. “It’s like winning a lottery that I am alive.”

When his supervisors finally arrived, it took them an hour and a half to turn off the electricity.

“I saw them running around with blueprints,” said his wife Tina Pacheco who worked at McMurdo as an administrative assistant. “They couldn’t even figure out where the switch was to turn off the electricity. And then later they blamed David for not turning it off. And that’s just, on so many levels, that’s ridiculous.” Read the remainder of this entry »

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Lobbying the court of public opinion

Posted March 30, 2011 By Forseti

If you wonder what exactly I am talking about see the article by Stan Soloway, president and CEO of the Professional Services Council., published yesterday

I can see it now: You have the right to remain silent. Anything you say can and will be used against you in a Chamber of Commerce court of law. You have the right to speak to a corporate counsel If you cannot afford a counsel, the Business Roundtable will provide one for you pro bono. Do you understand these Supreme Court certified private sector rights as they have been read to you? ~David Isenberg, The PMSC Observer

What’s Bothering Stan Soloway Now?

Neil Gordon – (POGO) – March 29, 2011 – According to Stan Soloway, president and CEO of contractor trade association the Professional Services Council, due process and fairness are becoming “increasingly quaint notions” for federal contractors.

Soloway’s commentary in this week’s Washington Technology is full of outrage. The target of his ire is the Commission on Wartime Contracting (CWC), which in its February interim report recommended automatic suspensions of contractors who are indicted for “contract-related” misconduct.

Soloway likens this to “declaring guilt before all facts are known.” Yet this sort of shoot-first-ask-questions-later approach seems to be acceptable behavior in the private sector. Back in January 2010, POGO blogged about defense contractor Agility, which had been accused—but not yet convicted—of defrauding the government. According to the U.S. Army Contracting Command, Agility was fired as a subcontractor on LOGCAP IV by DynCorp International. DynCorp’s contract with Agility stipulated that an indictment for any reason could result in termination.

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Click HERE to read the US District Ruling (Criminal File No. 1:09-CR-490-TWT)

Matthew Bigg – ATLANTA (Reuters) – March 29, 2011 – A U.S. court ruling against Kuwaiti logistics company Agility has dealt a blow to the company’s fight against charges it defrauded the U.S. Army in multibillion-dollar contracts.

Agility was the largest supplier to the U.S. Army in the Middle East during the war in Iraq and the case is politically sensitive in both Washington and Kuwait.

The court said prosecutors correctly served Agility with an indictment in 2009 when it accused the company of overcharging the Army over 41 months on $8.5 billion in supply contracts first signed at the start of the Gulf War in 2003.

Agility argued the suit was invalid because prosecutors only served it on the company’s U.S. subsidiary and not the Kuwait-based parent company, Public Warehousing Company K.S.C. a.k.a. Agility.

“PWC has not shown any reason for Agility Holdings to exist other than to conduct PWC’s business in the United States,” said the ruling by U.S. District Judge Thomas Thrash issued on Monday.

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Nothing starts the week out better than a good cup of coffee and listening to the Commission on Wartime Contracting grilling a witness on the ineptitudes of wartime contractors.  It makes it worthwhile to get up on Monday morning, when you can turn on C-Span, with the anticipation of hearing the sound of a gavel calling a hearing to order.  As usual the Commission did not disappoint. ~Forseti

Pentagon resists automatic suspension of indicted contractors
Robert Brodsky – (GovExec) – March 28, 2011 – Mandatory suspension or debarment of indicted contractors could have a “chilling effect” on contractor relations, the Defense Department’s top acquisition official told the Commission on Wartime Contracting on Monday.
In February, the congressionally chartered commission released an interim report on how the department could reduce waste, fraud and abuse through enhanced oversight and improved deployment of government resources in contingency contracting.

The report offered 32 specific legislative, regulatory and policy proposals, including limiting the government’s reliance on armed private security contractors. The commission’s final report is due out in July and likely will be considered by Congress for possible legislation.

Defense agreed with most of the suggestions in the interim report and already has begun to implement some, according to Ashton B. Carter, undersecretary of Defense for acquisition, technology and logistics. But Carter told the panel that other ideas would do more harm than good.

For example, the commission recommends automatic suspension or debarment for indicted contractors. The group would mandate that suspensions and debarments no longer be subject to the terms of agreements the contractors make with the Justice Department — agreements that allow firms to avoid prosecution in criminal actions. Also, contingency contractors operating overseas should no longer be guaranteed a hearing to dispute facts in a suspension or debarment case, according to the report.

Carter disagreed with those recommendations, noting suspension and debarment officials need the flexibility and discretion to judge each case on its own facts and circumstances. (Click HERE for article)

DynCorp Cited By U.S. For Afghan Base Deficiencies

Tony Capaccio – (Bloomberg) – March 27, 2011 – DynCorp International Inc., the largest U.S. contractor in Afghanistan, was warned by Pentagon officials in January that it is failing to adequately inspect and repair in a timely manner potential electrical hazards at U.S. bases, according to a document.

DynCorp also filed reports indicating that it fully completed repair work on potential life, health or safety electrical problems “even though parts are on order and the work is not complete,” Lieutenant Colonel David Schoolcraft, a military contracting officer, wrote to DynCorp on Jan. 7 in a formal “Letter of Concern.”

The Pentagon’s contract oversight agencies have increased their scrutiny of issues related to electrical wiring at U.S. bases in Iraq and Afghanistan after 18 troops were electrocuted in Iraq either in accidents or in connection with faulty construction or grounding of equipment.

There is no indication that military personnel have been electrocuted in Afghanistan. DynCorp management, in a Jan. 31 response, outlined the company’s plans to address the issues. The warning to DynCorp may be highlighted today during a hearing of the congressionally mandated Commission on Wartime Contracting.

Falls Church, Virginia-based DynCorp is working under a July 2009 contract worth as much as $5.7 billion if all options are executed. It took over from incumbent KBR Inc. (KBR) the job in southern Afghanistan of facilities management, inspection, maintenance and installation for electrical power, water, sewage, laundry, food services and motor pool supervision.
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