WASHINGTON — For several years, Afghan police recruits under the tutelage of private U.S. government contractors couldn't understand why their marksmanship never improved.
The answer became clear earlier this year. Italian contractors also helping to train Afghan volunteers showed them that the sights on their AK-47s and M-16s had never been adjusted.
"We're paying somebody to teach these people to shoot these weapons, and nobody ever bothered to check their sights?" Democratic Sen. Claire McCaskill of Missouri said, after relating that story at a hearing Thursday.
To McCaskill, who chaired the hearing of the Senate Contracting Oversight panel, it illustrated why the U.S. has spent more than $6 billion on private contractors, but the police-training program remains rife with problems.
"It is an unbelievable, incompetent story of contracts," she said. "For eight years we have been supposedly training the police in Afghanistan. We've flushed $6 billion."
Improving and expanding the 90,000-man Afghan National Police to maintain stability and protect the population is crucial to the Obama administration's plan to begin reducing the American military presence in July 2011.
But the training contracts have been plagued by mismanagement. Investigations by the Government Accountability Office and the inspector generals from the Departments of State and Defense have sharply criticized the contractors and the government oversight.
"Just about everything that could go wrong here has gone wrong," Defense Department Inspector General Gordon Heddell told the subcommittee.
The most pressing issue is that the program is now in contract limbo. Last month, the GAO blocked the Army from awarding a $1 billion police training contract to Xe Services, the company which used to be known as Blackwater and that has its own troubled government contracting history.
Agency auditors said that the Army unfairly excluded other potential bidders and agreed with a protest by DynCorp International. DynCorp has had a $1.2 billion training contract from the State Department.