The Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR), Arnold Fields, announced yesterday that he will resign from his post. That announcement comes less than a week after the firing by Fields of SIGAR’s two top deputies, John Brummet and Raymond DiNunzio.
This is an important step towards more aggressive oversight in Afghanistan. General Fields has served the country with distinction in the military, however, an Inspector General needs to be cut from a cloth where challenging authority comes easily. The Afghanistan watchdog is one of the most important and difficult jobs in the federal government. It is time for new leadership to better account for the billions being spent with little accountability.
POGO has been scrutinizing the performance of the SIGAR since late 2009. In December 2009, we echoed a request by a bi-partisan group of senators for a presidential review of SIGAR.
A subsequent peer review of SIGAR’s performance undertaken on behalf the Council of Inspectors General for Integrity and Efficiency (CIGIE), the group of Inspectors General (IGs) responsible for evaluating the performance of statutory IGs, identified serious problems with SIGAR’s operations.
The problems were severe enough that SIGAR’s law enforcement powers could have been stripped if they were not quickly fixed, which, according to SIGAR, “would effectively terminate the agency and all of the ongoing criminal investigations concerning Afghanistan Reconstruction funding.” That evaluation led to further calls for Fields’ ouster.
But perhaps the final straw was Fields’ decision to hire Joseph E. Schmitz, PLLC, for a sole-source contract to “independently monitor” the SIGAR’s efforts to correct the deficiencies documented by CIGIE. Schmitz, the former Defense Department Inspector General, left the Pentagon amid allegations that he interfered with investigations and other misconduct.
An investigation into the allegations against Schmitz found he had not violated “any law, rule, or regulation,” or engaged in “gross mismanagement, gross waste of funds, or abuse of authority in connection with any of the matters under review.”
Nonetheless, the decision by Fields to give a sole-source contract to a former IG who himself left under heavy scrutiny left some observers with the impression that he lacked the necessary judgment for such a critical job.
To be sure, Fields was presented with a difficult challenge when he became the first SIGAR in the summer of 2008. Setting up a watchdog office in a war zone where there had been a scarcity of oversight in the last few years is no easy task. But the importance of independent and aggressive oversight of reconstruction funds in Afghanistan is so paramount—U.S. taxpayers have provided at least $51 billion for Afghanistan reconstruction since 2002, according to the SIGAR, a figure that is expected to increase to $71 billion this year—that his performance should be held to the highest standard.
Now that the top posts of SIGAR have been cleared out, we’ll be pressing the Obama administration to promptly appoint tough and aggressive new leadership.
-- Jake Wiens
Update: Be sure to let us know if you have any ideas for a tough and aggressive SIGAR candidate in the comment section.
Photo credit: SIGAR