New, Familiar Challenges for State Dept. in Iraq
By JAKE WIENS
NPR reported yesterday on the challenges the State Department will face in Iraq following the scheduled pullout of the U.S. military at the end of this year.
In order to fill the void created by the departure of the military, State will rely heavily on the use of private security contractors. The Department estimates that it will more than double the number of private security contractors currently operating in Iraq.
Major questions loom about whether State can effectively oversee this influx of contractors. POGO previously touched on this issue in a November 2010 letter urging President Obama to nominate a permanent State Department Inspector General (IG), which has been operating under an acting IG for over three years:
The U.S. military plans to pull out entirely from Iraq by December 31, 2011. “After the departure of U.S. Forces [from Iraq], [State] will continue to have a critical need for logistical and life support of a magnitude and scale of complexity that is unprecedented” in State’s history, according to State’s Under Secretary for Management, Patrick F. Kennedy. In order to meet this challenge, State plans to utilize “between 6,000 and 7,000 security contractors,” more than double its current numbers. Yet, Kennedy himself has said State “does not have within its Foreign Service cadre sufficient experience and expertise to perform necessary contract oversight.” The Commission on Wartime Contracting (CWC) has gone even further, noting that, “With such a large increase in contract employees, existing weaknesses in contract management and oversight, not to mention funding and hiring challenges, can only grow more troublesome.”
Given these coming challenges, the importance of independent and aggressive oversight of State and its contractors in Iraq will be paramount. POGO is convinced that under its current leadership, State’s OIG will not be up to the task.
The examples of State struggling to oversee its current cadre of private security contractors are as numerous as they are notorious. One example POGO knows all too well involved the “Lord of the Flies environment” created by contractors working for Armor Group North America at the U.S. Embassy in Kabul, Afghanistan. Another example involved the shooting of 17 Iraqi civilians by contractors working for the company formerly known as Blackwater. And the list goes on.
Given this history, it is not surprising that POGO has not been alone in calling on the Obama administration to nominate a permanent Inspector General to provide independent oversight of State. At a recent House Committee on Foreign Affairs hearing, even the current de facto State Inspector General said that it was time for State’s IG Office to be led by a permanent, presidentially appointed Inspector General.
So why has the IG position been vacant for so long? According to a recent story in The Washington Post, some officials may prefer to keep the acting IG at the helm:
One high-ranking official familiar with the selection process said the State Department’s current leadership had opposed filling the top slot because it prefers the office to remain under Geisel’s supervision. A committee of existing inspectors general long ago put forward a short list of recommendations for the job, but the White House has not acted on them, the official said, asking not to be identified because of the sensitivity of the issue.
But regardless of the reason for the prolonged vacancy, considering the coming challenges facing State, it is now more urgent than ever that Obama nominate an independent and aggressive permanent Inspector General to oversee the State Department.
Jake Wiens is a POGO Investigator.