By DANA LIEBELSON
In these budget-strapped times, it's hard to get Members of Congress to step across the aisle and agree even on where to go for lunch--let alone agree on how to oversee billions of dollars in Afghanistan. But yesterday, the bipartisan commission behind a three-year investigation on wartime contracting did just that by urging Congress to set differences aside and implement reforms to halt massive amounts of fraud and waste in contracting.
"Our final report has no dissenting views from the commission," said Michael J. Thibault, co-chair of the eight-member Commission on Wartime Contracting (CWC), at a press conference. “In fact, [during the investigation] you would have been hard-pressed to tell which commissioners were Republicans and which were Democrats.”
Several of the commissioners present at the conference, which was held Wednesday at the Capitol, went so far as to call the Commission, 'non-partisan'—which was quite different from what we saw from the very divided Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission, another congressionally-mandated panel empowered to examine another troubling big picture problem that has cost taxpayers significant sums of money.
The CWC report, which offers 15 strategic recommendations for contracting reform, is the result of 25 formal hearings and more than 1,000 meetings conducted by the Commission. The report reveals that, conservatively, up to $60 billion have been wasted through contracting in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Many of the CWC’s recommendations—for example, allocating funding for adequate oversight of contingency contracting and improving collection and use of contractor performance data—echo reforms that POGO has long advocated. (Note: We're still poring through the report so stay tuned for more analysis.)
But given that Congress is presently occupied with making massive budget cuts, how likely is it that action will be taken on these recommendations?
“With the current stress on the budget, many congressmen will undoubtedly be discouraged. But some of these reforms require no new spending, and for those that do, holding back will be false economy” said Representative Christopher Shays (R-CT), the other co-chair of the Commission.
Senator Jim Webb (D-VA), one of the Members of Congress who introduced the legislation to create the Commission, called the bi-partisan effort, “high-energy” and pointed out that “the recommendations will be listened to and acted upon.”
On that note, Representative John Tierney (D-MA) announced legislation today that would create a permanent Inspector General for contingency operations, starting with Iraq and Afghanistan.
The proposal for a permanent IG for contingency operations was first made by the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction (SIGIR) Stuart Bowen; the idea has also won praise from Senator Claire McCaskill (D-MO).
However, not all quarters are enthused by the concept. At a Senate hearing last November, McCaskill asked the Department of Defense Inspector General (DoD IG) Gordon Heddell what he thought about the proposal. Heddell said he had reservations and said there could be waste in having a staff of a special IG for contingency operations wait around for a contingency. “The response by the [currently existing] inspector general community to Katrina, which was a contingency operation, [was] by and large was relatively effective,” Heddell added. Similarly, the IGs for the State Department and U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) have expressed opposition to the idea.
While the congressional super committee tasked with restructuring the budget could potentially address recommendations from the report, many recommendations fall under the rubric of issues tackled by the annual defense authorization bill. To this extent, it’s too late for the House, which passed its defense authorization bill in May. But the Senate Armed Services Committee has yet to pass its version of the bill out of committee—so there’s hope that any urgently-needed recommendations will be taken into account.
“We cannot afford to fight the next war like Iraq and Afghanistan….money is being wasted and we have to do something about that. We need to do it for the troops, for the civilians, for the contractors and for the American people” said Dov Zakheim, former under secretary and chief financial officer for the Department of Defense.
Dana Liebelson is POGO’s Beth Daley Impact Fellow.
Photo by Dana Liebelson.