In a letter to the editor published yesterday in The New York Times, Representative Mike Honda (D-CA) offered an important reminder as to why filling the vacancy of Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) should be a top priority for President Obama:
Afghans are witnessing a particular American failure: too little oversight and accountability for billions of taxpayer dollars pouring in. Billion-dollar projects granted in Washington end up in Afghanistan with a mere fraction of the money left. Extortion and corruption are ubiquitous along the American supply chain.
Every American operation overseas involving billions of taxpayer dollars should be under the watchful eye of a permanent independent office, with its own special inspector general.
A permanent special inspector general whose mandate transcends political timetables sends the message that transparency, efficiency and efficacy are priorities, and waste and corruption will not be tolerated. Do this and you begin to turn the tide of Afghan opinion, and get closer to the stability we set out to secure.
As POGO readers may know, the SIGAR office will soon steer its fraud-finding ship with but a skeleton crew. The most recent SIGAR, Major Arnold Fields, announced his resignation two weeks ago as criticism of his performance from a bipartisan group of senators reached a crescendo. He left shortly after relieving his two top deputies: John Brummet, the assistant inspector general for audits, and Raymond DiNunzio, the assistant inspector general for investigations.
The SIGAR is a critical oversight position: According to the SIGAR, taxpayers have provided $51 billion for Afghanistan reconstruction efforts since 2002. This figure is expected to balloon to $71 billion this year.
POGO had also called for Fields' ouster, and now we're urging the President to nominate an aggressive, independent watchdog to conduct oversight of the Afghanistan reconstruction efforts. You can help by taking thirty seconds to write President Obama and urging him to do the same.
We'd also love to hear your suggestions for how the White House should proceed. What do you think the President should look for in a nominee? Any names come to mind? And what do you think of the idea of merging SIGAR with the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction (SIGIR), as one reader suggested earlier this month? Let us know what you think in the comment section below.
Read the letter to the editor written by Rep. Honda, who is chairman of the Afghanistan Task Force of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, here.
Bryan Rahija is POGO's Blog Editor.