The company responsible for providing security at the U.S. embassy in Kabul, Afghanistan has at times directed guards to underreport the number of hours they worked to avoid revealing that they have been on the job up to 18 hours per day, according to a federal lawsuit filed this week on behalf of people who have served on the guard force.
In addition, supervisors at the company, Aegis Defense Services, "regularly edited employees' timesheets so that they did not reveal any work beyond the Regular Schedule," the lawsuit says.
Aegis employees in Kabul are supposed to work 72 hours per week but have regularly exceeded that, on many occasions working 14- to 18-hour days for six or seven days per week, the lawsuit says.
While the extra hours allowed Aegis to meet its staffing obligations to the State Department, the employees were not paid for that time, the suit alleges.
The civil suit seeks money allegedly owed to affected guards and says "the amount in controversy exceeds $5 million." Filed as a class action, it accuses Aegis of breach of contract and unjust enrichment.
The four plaintiffs named in the lawsuit are described as a former senior guard, a dog handler, and two former emergency medical technicians. The lawsuit estimates that the class has at least 200 members.
A lawyer for the plaintiffs, Hillary Schwab, told the Project on Government Oversight (POGO) that those she represents were "overworked, fatigued, and exhausted, which made them unable to carry out their assigned duties protecting the embassy."
"No one whom I've interviewed...failed to make this point of their own accord. They just couldn't do the job," Schwab said.
News of the lawsuit comes as Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is testifying on Capitol Hill today about the Sept. 11, 2012 attack that killed Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens and three other Americans in Benghazi, Libya. In addition, President Obama's nominee to succeed Clinton, Sen. John F. Kerry (D-Mass.), is scheduled to appear for a confirmation hearing tomorrow.
Clinton is fielding questions from the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on diplomatic security, and Kerry is expected to face similar questions.
The lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, dovetails with allegations that the private security force responsible for protecting the embassy in Kabul has been stretched dangerously thin by long hours for days on end.
As POGO reported last week, people who have worked for Aegis in Kabul allege that security weaknesses have left the embassy -- perhaps the most at-risk U.S. diplomatic post in the world -- vulnerable to attack.
Former congressman Christopher Shays (R-Conn.), who co-chaired the federal Commission on Wartime Contracting in Iraq and Afghanistan, said that if that commission were still in business it would be holding hearings on the allegations. In an interview Sunday, Shays said congressional oversight committees should investigate.
"Those are serious concerns and they can't be ignored," Shays said.
"If the accusations are accurate, you've got a management problem. If they are not accurate, you've got a problem with those who are doing the work," he said. "But in either case you've got a problem."