Global War on Crime and Drugs Creates Opportunities for Contractors
An expansion of U.S. counterdrug and anticrime efforts overseas could spur demand for contractor services, a senior State Department official said.
The State Department’s Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs is looking to expand its cadre of contractors with expertise in counterdrug operations, law enforcement and transnational crime fighting. With an annual budget of about $2 billion, the INL bureau expects to take on new duties and, as result, it will need more help from the private sector.
“We want to broaden the base of companies we can work with,” said William R. Brownfield, assistant secretary of state for international narcotics and law enforcement affairs.
Brownfield hosted an “industry day” May 14 at the State Department, and more than 200 contractor representatives attended. About 60 percent of them were from companies that have never done business with the State Department and are exploring potential opportunities, Brownfield said in an interview.
“We walked them through what we are going to be doing in the next two to four years,” he said.
INL is now working in 80 countries. It has a staff of 1,500 full-time personnel and up to 4,500 contractors on the ground. While it is one of the State Department’s largest operations, the bureau is relatively unknown outside the inner national security community.
It was created during the latter part of the Ford administration in the late 1970s to tackle narco-trafficking in South America. Congress and the White House then decided that only the State Department had the legal authority to train and equip non-U.S. law enforcement units.
“Over the last 35 years we evolved from just drugs, to crime, law enforcement and rule of law,” Brownfield said. Counterdrug programs now make up just 25 percent of the bureau’s workload.
INL’s largest presence is in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Until last year, it had a large footprint in Iraq. The bureau is now starting to diversify, said Brownfield. “We are doing more in Arab Spring countries, West Africa, Southeast Asia. We are still doing a lot in Eastern Europe and the Balkans.”
The most lucrative of INL’s contracts are those in aviation support. The so-called INL “Air Wing” oversees a fleet of more than 200 airplanes and helicopters that flies over 41,000 hours annually in counternarcotics, counterterrorism, border security, law enforcement and embassy transportation missions in nine countries. The aviation program’s funding ranges from $400 million to $450 million, according to State Department documents.
INL has relied on a handful of established contractors, such as Dyncorp, Lockheed Martin Corp. and ARINC, but is now seeking to broaden the playing field.
The bureau is not dissatisfied with its current suppliers, Brownfield noted, but would like to bring in new players. “We have received clear marching orders from the White House” to increase contracts awards to small and disadvantaged businesses, he said. The mandate is part of the administration’s goal to boost small businesses.
Besides aviation support, other contracting deals will focus on building other nations’ law enforcement institutions. In Afghanistan, about 60 percent of INL’s work is in the justice sector — training prosecutions, corrections officials, judges — and 40 percent is in counternarcotics. Similar programs have been set up in Palestine’s West Bank, in partnership with the Israeli government.
Brownfield said he anticipates growing demand in Eastern Europe for U.S. expertise in dealing with transnational organized crime. Mexico is also seeing an expanded INL presence as the United States steps up its campaign against drug cartels and seeks to beef up border security.
In many of these projects, State works with other branches of the government such as the Defense Department and the U.S. Agency for International Development. Because each has different jurisdictions, they must stay in their own lanes. State trains police but not national armed forces. Conversely, the Defense Department cannot work with police unless it has a special authority. “When we work in sync, it produces a very good outcomes,” Brownfield said.
INL is preparing to possibly take on new duties following the scheduled departure of U.S. troops from Afghanistan next year. Brownfield said he is preemptively scouring the contractor market in anticipation of future demand. “As we prepare for Afghanistan post 2014, we will require a new package of private sector partners. It will not be a small package,” he said. “As the military pulls out, some of those missions will fall to us.”
The bureau is likely to become a bigger foreign policy player, said Brownfield, because of the way it is organized. While other parts of the State Department, such as diplomatic security, have larger budgets, INL has most of the discretionary dollars. “We can move our money around to respond to the president’s and the secretary’s priorities,” Brownfield said. “That is our message to those who want to be in this line of work of law enforcement, security and capacity building work. It is an area that is getting increasing interest.”
Companies that worry about losing Pentagon contracts and are looking for other customers might want to consider working for INL, he said. “I am more than happy to offer those opportunities as long as we have a good fit and the products and services they offer are competitive and meet our needs.”
Government contracting experts warn that transitioning from Defense to State Department work might be more difficult than it appears. “Many of these opportunities will require a special type of government contractor that can deal not only with day-to-day contract mission requirements and interactions with INL managers, but also with foreign law enforcement,” said Rolando R. Sanchez, an associate attorney at the Washington law firm Hollingsworth LLP, which represents major government contractors. “Understanding how to balance these two relationships is part of the challenge,” he said. “INL's outreach may also be an indication that it is assessing how much mission it can plan. … Apparently their mission is going to be a lot bigger.”