The State Department is reconsidering an $850 million contract award for IED and bomb removal in hot spots around the world after a previous agency grant to the same company received new scrutiny just weeks into Secretary of State Mike Pompeo's tenure.
The State Department's Political-Military, Weapons Abatement (PMWRA) Office awarded the lucrative bomb-removal contract in May to Tetra Tech, an engineering services company that has a more limited history in munitions and ordnance clearance than several other companies and NGOs the U.S. government has worked with previously.
The contract would have made Tetra Tech the only commercial entity responsible for U.S. taxpayer-funded IED and other bomb clean-up efforts around the world.
The bomb-removal work is extremely dangerous but critically important for communities displaced by the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, which left IED booby traps intended to maim or kill returning families or government workers.
However, the State Department pulled the award back in mid-June to reevaluate the way the grant was awarded after the Washington Free Beacon reported on unusual circumstances surrounding another $48 million government grant to the same company.
Another company filed a protest bid with the Government Accountability Office (GAO) in order to force the State Department to justify its decision to award the contract to Tetra Tech and have GAO investigate it. Before the GAO could consider the case, the State Department voluntarily pulled back the Tetra Tech contract to reevaluate it. Because of that decision, the GAO summarily dismissed the other company's protest bid in June.
"I checked with our attorneys, and we dismissed it because the agency elected to reevaluate the proposals," GAO spokesman Chuck Young said in a Thursday email to the Free Beacon.
A State Department spokesperson confirmed that the contract is "undergoing review and source selection as part of the corrective actions being taken by the State Department" as a result of the GAO bid protest.
"Updates, to include contract-award notices, will be published to FedBizOppos.gov," the spokesman said without providing a timeline for a decision. FedBizOppos.gov is an online database of all government contract awards.
A spokeswoman for Tetra Tech did not respond to a request for comment.
The Free Beacon reported in May that State Department officials in the PMWRA office had rushed to lock in a previous $48 million non-competitive grant for bomb removal in Syria to Tetra Tech in the final days of the Obama administration.
The grant received new scrutiny as government officials tried to flag key areas of concern for Pompeo to address.
The State Department's PMWRA office had never worked with Tetra Tech before the $48 million grant for large-scale IED removal in Syria, spurring questions in the contracting community about why it was selected, according to several knowledgeable sources.
Officials in the U.S. State Department's PMWRA office worked to expedite a start date for Tetra Tech's IED removal grant before Jan. 19, 2017, the day before President Trump was inaugurated, the sources said, describing the effort as a "mad dash" by PMWRA and the Office of Near East Asia bureaus to get it done by Jan. 19.
The awarding of a "no-bid" grant, instead of allowing several companies to compete for a government contract through the paper-intensive and time-consuming government bidding process, raised immediate questions about the project's selection process in the government contracting community, the sources said.
If PMWRA truly believed a grant was warranted, critics question why it didn't ask other private commercial companies with more experience in IED clearance to set up special NGOs to bid on the project.
Critics of the Tetra Tech IED removal grant also question a subsidiary of Tetra Tech's hiring of a low-level program coordinator who had worked at PMWRA, as the administrative assistant to PMWRA Office Director Stanley Brown until the end of 2017.
U.S. laws bar a former government employee involved in the procurement of a government contract worth $10 million or more from going to work for the company who received the contract for one year.
However, those laws specifically apply to contracts, not grants. Most contract workers—even those that help staff State Department offices—are largely exempt from the revolving-door laws.
A State Department official previously explained the decision to award the $48 million grant to Tetra Tech in the waning days of the Obama administration as necessary because the PMWRA office works with for-profit companies in cases in which "humanitarian needs exceed the capabilities of demining NGOs."
"Syria is arguably the most difficult country in the world to conduct these operations in," the official said. "This project was awarded in full compliance with all applicable laws, regulations, and administrative procedures governing grants and cooperative agreements."
The State Department official did not say why PMWRA did not give other companies with extensive de-mining experience, such as Janus Global Operations, Optima, FSD/Crosstech, Mechem, UXB, and DynCorps a chance to bid on the Syria project.