updated 8/12/2009 7:33:31 PM ET 2009-08-12T23:33:31

A company with a $4.6 billion contract to supply U.S. forces in Iraq with Arabic-speaking translators received a scathing review on Wednesday from government officials who described tens of millions of dollars in questionable costs and poor management.

The company, Global Linguist Solutions, has not been replaced because there isn't another company readily available to provide the linguists even as the U.S. presence in Iraq is winding down, the officials said at a hearing by the independent Commission on Wartime Contracting.

Federal contracting officers who went to Iraq to examine the company's performance found about $5 million being spent on three-bedroom apartments and automobiles for individual contractor employees, said John Isgrigg, deputy director of contracting at the Army Intelligence and Security Command.

At the same time, the company was slow getting linguists into Iraq, Isgrigg said. GLS is now meeting the required numbers, he said.

Interpreters provide critical links between U.S. troops and foreign populations in both Iraq and Afghanistan. Yet finding steady numbers of translators for troops in foreign war zones has troubled the government for years. At times during the war in Iraq, the U.S. experienced shortages among translators to aid American troops.

John Houck, the company's general manager, defended the company's performance, saying that more than 9,000 interpreters are working in Iraq and other Middle East countries. He said greater communication between customer and contractor would likely resolve most of the problems.

'Lost control' of subcontractors
Isgrigg said Global Logistics Solutions initially struggled to meet the heavy demands. An Army unit in Iraq was "non-mission capable with respect to linguist support," he said.

The shortcomings led to a dispute over how the company was spending the money. Subsequent negotiations with GLS to cut the cost of contract's first installment by about $225 million were "extremely contentious," he said.

Isgrigg said he and other government officials believe GLS "lost control of their subcontractors and associated costs due to their business practices and management decisions."

Isgrigg acknowledged that too few government personnel were assigned to manage and watch over the contract, which he referred to as a "monster."

He also criticized GLS management for what he called a media campaign to convince U.S. authorities in Iraq that the salaries of linguists would have to be slashed because the command was reducing the value of the contract.

Instead, it was GLS that was trimming the salaries to make up for the lower cost of the contract, he said. The company then attempted to shift the blame to the government.

Unnecessary costs
Houck denied there was a media campaign, but he did say people employed by GLS did talk to military officials.

April Stephenson, director of the Defense Contract Audit Agency, said $2.9 billion of the $4.6 billion has been used to hire 18 subcontractors. The sole role of a dozen of these smaller companies is to pay the linguists.

"These 12 subcontractors do not hire, manage or interact with the linguists other than to pay the amount stipulated by GLS," Stephenson testified.

If all the options years of the contract are exercised, Stephenson said, this arrangement could total $556 million in unnecessary costs.

Houck said the contract was structured that way to ensure that linguists, who are often operating in hard-to-reach locations, are paid on time. "If a subcontractor was not to pay their linguists ... that would have direct impact on the mission," he said.

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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