Bad Watchdog Season 2 is out.

Holding the Government Accountable

359 Days Of Iraq Reconstruction Oversight To Go?

The Special Inspecting General for Iraq Reconstruction (SIGIR) has led the charge for the federal government to ensure that American taxpayer dollars are being spent properly to rebuild Iraq. The office provides a quarterly report to Congress updating the progress that has been made. In its July 30, 2006 report, SIGIR found that there have been many setbacks in the Iraq reconstruction process due to multiple issues such as security, corruption, and a lack of reconstruction leadership.

The report to Congress also lists examples of some of the problems that are occurring in the process. One of the many examples highlighted was the Basrah Childrens Hospital project, a contract awarded to Bechtel. This project was originally scheduled to be completed by December 31, 2005 but that date has pushed back to July 31, 2007. According to the report, the cost of the facility has skyrocketed to over 200% of the initial cost. During a review of the program, SIGIR found that there was multiple “reporting anomalies,” “weak accounting systems,” and a “poor cost-projection process.” SIGIR currently has over 80 criminal investigations open. The Department of Justice is prosecuting over 25 of these cases.

SIGIR has provided valuable reports showing that although reconstruction is moving forward, it is a slow long process that will take years to accomplish. Many of these items are raised in the lessons learned series of reports. One of the most valuable reports is the July 2006 “Lessons Learned in Contracting and Procurement.” This report provided six recommendations that would better streamline the acquisition process in future and ongoing reconstruction efforts by the United States. Many of these recommendations have yet to be addressed, although the Department of Defense has apparently created a task force to implement these recommendations.

It is amazing that such hard work can go unrewarded. The Defense Authorization Bill, currently awaiting the President's signature, has set a termination date for SIGIR on October 1, 2007. The timing to end the existence of SIGIR has been modified multiple times. The most recent change was a modification to public law 108-106 that would:

...modify the SIGIR termination clause to base it upon the level of IRRF [Iraq Relief and Reconstruction Fund] expenditures, instead of obligations. Obligated funds are those that back up a legal and binding contract for goods and services to be provided. Expenditures are monies that have been paid out for work that has been completed and delivered satisfactorily. This amended language recognizes that termination of SIGIR oversight authority based on 80% of obligated funds would result in the termination of the SIGIR mandate well prior to the completion of those reconstruction efforts. Instead, the proposed language would use the rate of expenditures to calculate the termination date. This amendment was included in the final Foreign Operations, Export Financing, and Related Programs Appropriations Act, 2006, which was passed by Congress on November 10, 2005, and signed by the President on November 14, 2005 as P.L.109-102. Based on projections for IRRF expenditures, this extension will likely extend the SIGIR mandate until mid-late Fiscal Year 2007.

With reconstruction still facing obstacles -and billions of dollars still unspent- it does not seem wise to cut oversight short. Just because 80 percent of IRRF funds have been spent does not mean the job is done. With the amount of money the taxpayer has spent in Iraq --and what seem to be very limited results-- it seems that SIGIR's job is far from over.

With SIGIR's oversight role sun setting, POGO renews calls for Congress to create a Truman-type committee that would investigate spending in Iraq to ensure that taxpayer dollars are being spent wisely.