By DANA LIEBELSON
Congress will officially close the curtain on the Commission on Wartime Contracting (CWC) tomorrow, after a three-year investigation that revealed the U.S. has wasted at least $31 billion in Iraq and Afghanistan over the past decade on contracting. Now, the torch of responsibility is being handed to Members of Congress, who must decide whether or not the government will continue to squander taxpayer dollars.
The CWC was created in the spirit of the Truman Committee, which went on hundreds of fact-finding missions and saved billions of taxpayer dollars during World War II. The initial legislation for the modern-day CWC was introduced by Senator James Webb (D-VA) and Senator Claire McCaskill (D-MO), with strong backing from POGO, which was given the opportunity to review the bill.
Back in 2007, POGO wrote that the bi-partisan, eight-member Commission would make “great strides towards holding accountable those who have been responsible for waste, fraud, abuse, and mismanagement of wartime contracts.” Nick Schwellenbach, POGO’s Director of Investigations, said at the time: “I don’t envy them, but a group of thoughtful, empowered people need to tackle [this] mess.”
And tackle it they did—since 2008 the CWC has conducted 25 formal hearings, participated in more than 1,000 meetings, and maintained liaison offices in Baghdad and Kabul. The CWC’s final 240-page report, which was released on August 31, found that one out of every six taxpayer dollars spent in Iraq and Afghanistan has been wasted—and extensive contracting is largely at fault.
At a press conference POGO attended on the final report, Christopher Shays (R-CT), the CWC Co-Chair, said: “the government was not prepared to enter the wars with a large number of contractors, and it has become over dependent on these contractors.”
The report offered 15 strategic recommendations for reform, such as phasing out the use of private security contractors for certain functions, creating a permanent Inspector General (IG) for contingency operations and improving contractor performance-data recording.
To that extent, the CWC may be finito, but that doesn’t mean its work won’t have a lasting impact. Senator Webb said in a recent press release, “I strongly endorse the Commission’s position that Congress should enact legislation requiring regular assessments and reporting by each agency to monitor their progress in implementing reform recommendations.” In that spirit, Representative John Tierney (D-MA) has already introduced legislation that would create a permanent contingency zone IG.
At POGO, we encourage Congress to act upon the findings, insights and recommendations of the CWC to avoid repeating past mistakes.
Dana Liebelson is POGO's Beth Daley Impact Fellow.
Photo of CWC and Sen. Webb by POGO. See more on our Flickr page.