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Inquiry decries MacDill contract

Congressional investigators have concluded that MacDill Air Force Base mishandled a contract to build temporary office space for foreign military officers preparing for the war in Iraq.

MacDill paid $509,951 for the installation of several mobile homes known as Coalition Village II, more than three times the original bid of $142,755.

A report to be released today by the General Accounting Office, the investigative arm of Congress, says it is impossible to determine how much MacDill should have paid for the project at the U.S. Central Command last year.

The GAO said its efforts to assess contract costs were hampered by poor record keeping, undocumented contracting decisions and changes to contract requirements that were not properly coordinated with contractors.

In response to the findings, the Pentagon said it would use the Coalition Village II contract as a test case to ensure that contracting personnel throughout the Air Mobility Command, which oversees all military transport, "follow sound contract management practices."

As part of its investigation, the GAO also looked into rents paid off-base by military personnel assigned temporarily to MacDill and concluded that contracting officers at MacDill had done nothing wrong.

In fact, the GAO said, MacDill saved $12.6-million with the housing arrangements in 2003.

"In our limited review of local rental prices in the Tampa area, we found that MacDill's lodging costs were comparable with those paid by corporate entities for the same types of units but were higher than prices for typical apartments cited in media reports," the report said.

Since the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, more than 3,000 active-duty, reservists and National Guard personnel have been mobilized to MacDill for periods of up to two years, according to the GAO.

In addition to the air wing, MacDill is home to the Central Command, the nerve center of the war in Iraq, and the Special Operations Command, which oversees the nation's secret commando units.

Sen. Bill Nelson, the Florida Democrat who serves on the Armed Services Committee, asked that GAO investigators review the housing rentals, as well as the Coalition Village II contract, as a result of stories published last summer by the St. Petersburg Times.

Nelson could not be reached for comment.

In a statement Monday night, Col. Brian T. Kelly, the vice commander at MacDill, said officials with the 6th Air Mobility Wing had not seen the 25-page GAO report, "Issues in Contracting for Lodging and Temporary Office Space at MacDill Air Force Base."

However, Kelly said, "We are confident we have done the right thing for taxpayers in contracting rooms off base to meet increased needs brought on by the war on terrorism."

On the Coalition Village II contract, Kelly said MacDill complied with federal regulations, "both in making the initial contract and then adjusting that contract."

"Regarding U.S. Central Command trailer requirements, we promptly and legally supported the nation on a critical, time-sensitive, war-supporting project," Kelly said.

"However, there were some things we could have done better. We realized this on our own, and took corrective actions months before the GAO initiated a review last June."

Resun Limited Inc. of Brandon was the contractor that built Coalition Village II.

In its response to the GAO, Deidre A. Lee, director of Defense Procurement and Acquisition Policy at the Pentagon, also noted that MacDill had conducted its own probe, even before the start of the GAO investigation.

Lee said that as a result, letters of reprimand had been issued to the contracting officer and the contract administrator.

In addition, Lee said that MacDill had instituted a training program on contracting fundamentals, including negotiating contract changes and properly documenting contract files.

Contracting personnel from the Air Mobility Command visited MacDill earlier in the month to discuss the contract and action taken.

In its report, however, the GAO noted that it was not entirely satisfied with the "corrective actions" the Pentagon said MacDill had implemented to avoid repeating contract mistakes. The GAO said it would continue to monitor the contract.

In the end, the GAO made only one recommendation.

"We are recommending that the Secretary of Defense direct the Secretary of the Air Force to direct the commander of the Air Mobility Wing to emphasize to MacDill personnel the importance of adhering to sound contract management procedures that exist to protect the interests of the government," the report said.

"Communications should ensure that contract files are properly maintained and that only authorized personnel initiate changes to contract requirements, even during time-sensitive procurements."

On the off-base housing, a GAO analysis found that a soldier staying off base at MacDill could pay between $2,130 and $2,790 a month in rent for an apartment with amenities including utilities and maid service.

But the analysis pointed out that the cost per individual dropped to between $1,065 and $1,395 a month if two people shared a unit.

That amount is far lower than the $93-a-day rate the government allows soldiers on temporary duty to spend in the Tampa Bay area.

During its investigation, which stretched from June to December, GAO investigators also visited other Army and Air Force installations, and obtained data from Navy and Marine Corps headquarters.

_ Paul de la Garza can be reached at delagarzasptimes.com or (813) 226-3432.

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