By NEIL GORDON
At least one out of every six dollars spent by U.S. taxpayers on contracts in Iraq and Afghanistan over the past decade--more than $30 billion--has been wasted.
That, and the fact that the government over-relies on contractors for contingency operations, are the key findings in the final report issued today by the Commission on Wartime Contracting in Iraq and Afghanistan (CWC). The eight-member, bipartisan, congressionally chartered commission filed the 240-page report with the House and Senate this morning.
Taxpayers have spent a total of $206 billion on contracts in Iraq and Afghanistan. More than $40 billion of this was awarded to KBR. KBR and 21 other companies accounted for more than half of the total. An additional $38.5 billion went to “miscellaneous foreign contractors,” demonstrating once again the difficulty of compiling reliable, accurate contract spending data in those countries. The CWC estimates that waste and fraud have amounted to at least $31 billion and possibly as much as $60 billion (about $12 million every day for the past 10 years) and warns that we may be at risk of losing an equal amount of money if the governments of Iraq and Afghanistan are unable or unwilling to sustain U.S.-funded projects after we leave.
According to the report, fraud and waste stems from a variety of shortcomings equally attributable to both the government and contractors: poor planning, vague and shifting contract requirements, inadequate competition, substandard contract management and oversight, lax accountability, weak interagency coordination, and subpar performance or outright misconduct by some contractors and federal employees. “There are many causes,” the CWC announced in a press release accompanying the report, “and no simple solution.”
The final report contains 15 strategic recommendations to improve contingency contracting, including:
- Making more rigorous use of risk analysis when deciding to use contractors, rather than assuming that any task not on a list of inherently governmental functions is appropriate for contracting.
- Phasing out the use of private security contractors for certain functions.
- Creating a permanent Inspector General for contingency operations so that investigative personnel are ready to deploy at the outset of a contingency and monitor preparedness and training between contingencies. Congressman John Tierney (D-MA) announced today he will introduce legislation that creates this position.
- Strengthening enforcement tools, including the increased use of suspensions and debarments. (The CWC dropped its controversial recommendation in an earlier report calling for automatic suspension of contractors charged with contract-related misconduct.)
Today’s report is the culmination of the CWC’s three years of work. The CWC has issued two interim reports to Congress, “At What Cost?” (June 2009) and “At What Risk?” (February 2011), as well as five special reports on specific issues. It held 25 public hearings, at which POGO testified three times (on February 28, 2011; June 18, 2010; and September 14, 2009). The CWC will now begin to wind down operations and will sunset at the end of September.
U.S. troops in Iraq are scheduled to leave by year’s end. In Afghanistan, the current plan is to gradually withdraw troops until the U.S. military presence ends for good by the end of 2014. Regardless of military timetables, U.S. government personnel, mainly from the State Department and USAID, plus a sizable complement of support contractors, will remain in both countries for the foreseeable future, and there is the very real possibility that the military may again become involved in other overseas contingency operations (Libya? Yemen? Pakistan? Somalia? Take your pick.) The CWC has superbly documented all of the mistakes we made over the past decade. We can’t afford to repeat them.
Neil Gordon is a POGO Investigator.