Command in Afghanistan engages in mentoring to subcontractors
December 14, 2010
- Plans to implement mentoring to local subcontractors underway
- Contracting initiative to help local economy with jobs and money
KABUL, Afghanistan -- A new contracting initiative by a command in southwest Afghanistan incorporating the use of larger companies mentoring to smaller companies to complete projects shows promise of serving as a model for the rest of Afghanistan.
Mentoring to subcontractors is a relatively new way of doing business as it has been too risky and difficult for local, smaller companies to secure a contract with larger companies, said a coalition commander in Afghanistan. The use of local companies, however, helps an area's local economy where construction projects to the support Afghan National Security Forces are taking place.
"As far as I know it hasn't been done yet," said Col. Michael Borg, commander of the Regional Support Command (Southwest) at Camp Leatherneck in the Helmand Province. Large companies who hire smaller companies and then mentor to them is a business practice that is just getting underway after nine years of war in Afghanistan, he said.
The mentoring includes how to maneuver through the bidding process with the ultimate goal of winning a contract working with a local coalition Regional Contracting Command office.
At Camp Leatherneck, the RCC contracting officer is Army Maj. David O'Hearn.
"I think we're the first one trying this particular approach," O'Hearn said. This was used in Iraq starting several years ago, he said, with success.
One senior counterinsurgency contracting official said mentoring to subconcontractors "seems to be the way to go, particularly in the construction sector." Lt. Col. Thomas Ficklin, COIN (Counter Insurgency) Contracting Outreach Director, added Afghan construction firms often have problems with properly executing plumbing and electrical work.
"Developing partnerships where Afghan or international firms with qualified/certified electricians and plumbers team with host nation firms that need guidance in these areas is a great way to develop skills and capacities of host nation firms," Ficklin said.
O'Hearn added that efforts are made to buy from local sources, employ local people, and mentor and develop local companies so they can be used over a series of contracts in the future.
The approach also includes sharing methods of construction that have proved successful with other coalition forces projects for Afghan facilities.
As one example, Borg cited an adobe-style design using concrete masonry with an I-beam roof that is slightly slanted for any rain runoff. The design also incorporates concrete floors and the use of solar power making this model very energy efficient, he said.
"We took that and engineered it and standardized it," he said, explaining that it can easily be reproduced. "That became our tool to go to the local economy and find local contractors."
Borg's command is part of the NATO Training Mission-Afghanistan/Combined Security Transition Command-Afghanistan, headquartered at Camp Eggers in Kabul. The NTM-A has six regional support commands - West (Camp Stone in Herat), North (Camp Spann in Mazar e Sharif), East (Bagram Air Base), South (Kandahar Airfield), Southwest (Camp Leatherneck in the Helmand Province) and Capital, Camp Phoenix (Kabul). The six RSCs support the six Regional Commands throughout Afghanistan via logistics, engineering, and training.
Subcontracting and mentoring could not naturally develop in Afghanistan because security could not guarantee that smaller companies' employees wouldn't have their people killed at Taliban checkpoints, Borg said.
"There's inherent risk on their part," Borg said of local companies wishing to be hired by larger, distant companies. In the past and depending on the location today, Afghan employees found with construction plans to support coalition projects in their vehicles stopped at Taliban checkpoints could be killed for collaborating with the enemy, he said.
Previously, companies from the areas like in Kabul, or the Helmand and Kandahar provinces, or even U.S. and international companies, acquired the contracts largely because they understood how to go through the bidding process, Borg said.
"There is no limit to Afghan initiative to learn," Borg said. "I think they're savvy businessmen."
This is a win-win situation for coalition forces and the local businesses as it improves local economies by infusing money into them thus increasing employment, Borg said. And, the competition helps lower the price for a project, he said.
Awardees aren't necessarily those who bid the cheapest, Borg said, but rather who offer "best value."
Each RSC currently has $100 million-plus worth on projects on their books to support NTM-A/CSTC-A training and other coalition-relation missions, an NTM-A/CSTC-A command briefing stated.
"They learn and they grow," Borg said of the local companies hired. "We're stimulating the local economy." Borg cited an Afghan Police Training Force facility as a recent example in Lashkar Gar of a local company doing the actual work.
While mentoring to subcontractors is just starting and clearly not the main way of doing business yet in Afghanistan and the RSC Southwest, it is taking hold based on the fact that it works and that security is improving.
"It's not everywhere in the province," Borg said, but, "it's part of the transitioning" to Afghan control.
Subcontracting also supports the counterinsurgency guidance of Gen. David H. Petraeus, commander, International Security Assistance Force/U.S. Forces-Afghanistan. Specifically, part of it includes supporting socio-economic development.
In the COIN guidance, Petraeus stated: "Institute 'COIN contracting.' Pay close attention to the impact of our spending and understand who benefits from it. And remember, we are who we fund. How we spend is often more important than how much we spend."
And the policy also calls for protecting the population, which translates into safeguarding the population from violence, coercion, intimidation, and predatory groups. This protection helps to allow companies to work with less risk than was previously possible.