By JAKE WIENS
Much of the coverage of the Commission on Wartime Contracting's (CWC) final report has focused on the staggering estimates of the amount of taxpayer dollars lost to waste in contracting in Iraq and Afghanistan. But the report doesn’t just play Monday morning quarterback--it also identifies looming, "foreseeable" problems and provides recommendations to stave them off. One of those problems involves the coming expansion of the State Department’s role in Iraq following the withdrawal of the military at the end of this year.
After the military's withdrawal, the State Department will take on what the CWC has described as many "military-like tasks: and vastly expand its presence in the region. The State Department's expanded role will include a large number of new functions, ranging from air transport to pest control. And many of these functions will likely be contracted out.
Speaking of this transition, the report notes that:
Expanding and sustaining State’s presence in Iraq would be a huge undertaking in the best of circumstances. But circumstances are not the best, or even good. Iraq is a heavily damaged country confronting challenges that include a dynamic insurgency and substantial turmoil in the region.
To help meet the security concerns associated with this challenge, State will rely heavily on the use of private security contractors, more than doubling the number it currently oversees. As POGO has written previously, State’s history of overseeing its current cadre of private security contractors doesn’t inspire much confidence in their ability to manage a much larger group.
The good news is that State acknowledged the importance of this recommendation in its Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review, which called for “rebuilding core capabilities in critical areas, creating more competition in contracting, and strengthening contract oversight and accountability.”
But there is also reason to remain concerned. During a recent hearing, CWC expressed frustration with State’s opposition to a number of its recommendations, including a recommendation “that suspension-and-debarment officials document the rationale for not taking action against a contractor officially recommended for suspension or debarment,” a key accountability mechanism. CWC Co-Chair Christopher Shays referred to State’s argument that such a requirement would be overly burdensome as “logically dubious.”
In addition, State continues to refrain from holding its contractors accountable for wrongdoing. More than two years after the State Department Office of Inspector General recommended that State attempt to recover $132 million from the contractor that bungled the construction of the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad, no action has been taken.
Jake Wiens is a POGO Investigator.