Firms don't have to hire RMCs, but they add a level of management and oversight that meets the standards of international organizations.
Companies have long hired private guards precisely because they don't trust the Afghan police to protect them in a crisis. The United Nations used Afghan police to guard its staff housing until an 2009 attack on a residential hotel in which Taliban assailants quickly made it past police guards and killed five U.N. staffers. The U.N. has since increased its security to include foreign guards.
Afghans working with APPF have gone so far as to urge the business licensing agency to "stop stalling the process," according to a letter sent to U.S. government officials by a development company and obtained by the AP.
"The painfully slow momentum of the various Afghan government entities may have scuppered the chances of a timely handover to the APPF," the letter argues.
Sidiqi said the complaints of delays were overblown, noting that there is a standard three-day licensing process. If there are delays, he said it is because the would-be RMCs are dragging it out.
"We need the RMCs," Sidiqi said. "They have the experience."
He dismissed the possibility of bribery. "This is a legal government organization, so corruption is not going to be possible," Sidiqi said.
But with so much undecided, some development organizations are opting to hunker down inside their compounds until the details are worked out.
A manager with one U.S. government development contractor said the company expects to delay visits to projects in dangerous places until all documents are finalized. The official spoke anonymously to avoid endangering contracts still being negotiated.
Going forward, the development company manager worried about recruiting for projects in places like the insurgent-heavy south. Some employees have already said they won't sign on to projects if their only security is going to be APPF guards.
But even once the RMCs are licensed and in-country, it is unclear that they will provide an easy transition.
These companies will not be able to directly control the guards that they manage. They can only give advice to an Afghan supervisor. If there's a dispute between the two, it will have to be taken to a government-run arbitration panel.
The issue has already caused problems on APPF-guarded projects before the mandatory switch. During the 2010 parliamentary elections, Afghan police pulled a group of APPF guards who were protecting a railroad construction project in the northern province of Balkh off their posts to guard polling stations, according to the former APPF commander.
"I told them it was a violation of the law but they said you have to do it. I was obliged," said Sayed Asghar Asgari. So he gave over 50 of his 462 guards. The guards were returned four days later, but the incident shows the potential for a blurring of lines between the Afghan security forces and guard units.
And as budgets for aid projects are decreasing, the APPF program is likely to increase security costs substantially.
An APPF guard will cost at least $770 a month, according to an AP analysis of official government figures, while private security providers contacted for this story say they usually charge $510-$630 a month per guard.
To avoid pay cuts for guards, individual companies will have to supplement salaries. And any costs for RMC managers will be on top of this. Once these expenses are figured in, security costs could easily double under the APPF.
It is still not clear what these changes will mean for existing USAID contracts. The aid agency has given no overarching guidance for how it will deal with delays or higher costs, though it has urged its partners to review their individual contracts to decide what their obligations and rights will be, the U.S. embassy official said.
Meanwhile, the Afghan government won't officially have all the APPF guards trained for more than a year. By March 20, about 1,840 of the existing guard force will have gone through the formal training program, which graduates about 220 people every three weeks, according to a NATO official who spoke anonymously to discuss an Afghan government program.