WINCHESTER, Va. (Aug. 22, 2012) -- Considering that proceeds from illicit drug trafficking can help finance insurgent attacks against U.S. Soldiers, help an ill-intentioned group destabilize a friendly nation, or arm pirates with high-powered weapons, it becomes clear why the Department of Defense is investing in a strong, sustained counternarcotics program.

The Defense Department's far-reaching counter-narcotics strategy calls for government agencies to build the capacity of Central Asian partners to secure their borders and prevent illicit drugs from entering, and ill-gotten proceeds from exiting, their region. At the next level, combatant commands are responsible for developing their counter-narcotics strategic plans in line with the DOD policy.

The Middle East District's counter-narcotics program in Central Asia is accomplished at the behest of U.S. Central Command, known as CENTCOM, with active projects at multiple locations in Tajikistan, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan.

"CENTCOM Operations Directorate is our customer, and the program has several stakeholders as well," said Robert Strom, program manager, Support for Others Branch. "We can't accomplish this work without the close cooperation of the U.S. Embassy staffs in those countries, particularly the Office of Military Cooperation. Several organizations within the host nations are also stakeholders, such as their customs offices, border patrol agencies, and canine training centers. We've formed good partnerships with these agencies to make sure we're building facilities that meet their needs."

The projects are border crossing facilities or training complexes to help the host nations carry out their efforts to counter trafficking in narcotics, according to Strom.

"The locations for these border facilities are often mountainous or remote," he said, "and there may be multiple facilities constructed in a specific country. The purpose is to enable these countries to have control at their borders."

The district's first efforts in the counter-narcotics program started in fiscal year 2010, with a project inherited from the Afghanistan Engineer District and a rushed schedule to award five contracts.

The early program proved problematic for several reasons, including the contractors' inexperience with working on U.S. government contracts and the district's inability to get sufficient "eyes on the project."

Strom pointed out that those early efforts netted a number of lessons learned, resulting in corrective action for managing the counter-narcotics program.

"We are improving our program management by sending charrette teams to the sites to develop the planning and programming reports," Strom said.

In early 2011, the district's Engineering Division contracted the Louis Berger Group to develop reports for various projects in Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Turkmenistan. Depending on site requirements, projects may consist of new construction, repair, or a combination of the two. Louis Berger delivered programming documents, cost estimates, draft site plans, conceptual floor plans, and furniture and equipment lists, where applicable, for several projects. These documents helped define the requirements for the fiscal year 2012 program.

"We also learned that we need to do a better job of educating local contractors about U.S. government contracting processes and Corps of Engineers construction requirements," Strom said. "We've hosted multiple contractor awareness sessions. We also learned that we need to require offerors to provide their construction licensing as part of their proposals; we have to be sure they're qualified to do the work."

The district also put additional resources on the program. In addition to Strom, John Ballard serves as a project manager for several counter-narcotics projects. James Slomer started out as the lead architect until deploying for a separate mission, at which point David Colberg stepped into the role. Contracting Division dedicated Dan Hanas and Peter DeMattei to the program.

And then there's the Construction Operations side.

The district now has a resident office at Manas Transit Center in Kyrgyzstan, which also oversees counter-narcotics work in that nation, and project offices in Tajikistan and Kazakhstan established specifically for the counter-narcotics work. Host nation citizens serve as project engineers and administrative assistants in these locations.

The field office staffs are supported by Construction Operations employees in Winchester - such as construction managers, contract administration staff, and quality assurance inspectors.

"Delivering these projects successfully requires the expertise of so many disciplines - from civil and structural engineers, to construction representatives, to contracting officers and specialists, attorneys and project managers," Ballard said. "These are small projects that need a piece of everyone's efforts to make them successful."

"When I learned that the district had the mission to construct these small counter-narcotics projects in Central Asia, I wanted the opportunity to oversee them," said Khaled Masoud, chief of the United Arab Emirates/Central Asian States Area Office. "We have many stakeholders interested in the success of these projects because of their importance to the defense of their countries, as well as ours."

Strom said that the district is working much closer with CENTCOM Operations Directorate and the Offices of Military Cooperation to improve their customer satisfaction.

Projects nearly complete include kennel facilities in Kazakhstan and border facility upgrades in Kyrgyzstan.

Because of contractor performance issues in the fiscal year 2010 program, the district took corrective action by terminating contracts and re-awarding the work, as necessary. Two projects in Tajikistan were re-awarded: a $546,856 contract to finish two border guard posts (in April) and a $3.7 million national training center (in July).

The district expects to award three contracts for projects in Kazakhstan and four contracts for projects in Kyrgyzstan, representing 11 separate projects, by the end of the fiscal year.