Holding the Government Accountable

Preventing a New Chapter of “Vacuous” Oversight

Earlier this year, we wrote that designating the Department of Defense Inspector General (DoD IG) as the “lead” watchdog to monitor overseas contingency operations in Afghanistan would overlap with and potentially undercut the excellent oversight work performed by the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR). Project On Government Oversight Executive Director Danielle Brian reiterated these concerns in testimony before the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, noting that the DoD IG has a record of pulling its punches, labelling its reports “For Official Use Only,” and withholding its reports from public release unless the reports are specifically requested through the Freedom of Information Act.

Now a new comparative analysis confirms how “empty and totally vacuous” the lead IG’s role is, and shows why Congress must act to ensure one of its most vigorous watchdogs, the SIGAR, does not get eclipsed by a lapdog.

Anthony Cordesman at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) has written a devastating critique of the lead IG’s latest report. He argues that the DoD IG—in coordination with IGs from the State Department and USAID—are doing next to nothing to address the most critical problems facing U.S. operations in Afghanistan, particularly in comparison to the tough work performed by SIGAR.

From April to June, SIGAR published 21 audits, inspections, alert letters, and other reports, and saved $214.7 million for U.S. taxpayers, according to its quarterly report. SIGAR also referred 17 individuals and 25 companies for suspension or debarment based on alleged contracting violations. By comparison, Cordesman says the lead IG report for the same period listed 8 reports by the DoD IG but “left even a summary of their contents to future reports.” Curiously, the report says USAID had “no programs or operations” related to U.S. operations in Afghanistan as of June 30, even though a previous chart in the report listed 110 USAID projects. Cordesman concludes that the lead IG’s report was issued by an “Under Secretary for Silly Reports,” and “reads more like a public relations exercise than anything else.”

The designation of the DoD IG as the lead originates with a provision in the FY 2013 National Defense Authorization Act, inserted by Senators Claire McCaskill (D-MO) and Jim Webb (D-VA), requiring an IG for DoD, State, or USAID to be responsible for overseeing an overseas contingency operation lasting longer than 60 days. Although SIGAR has long been in charge of overseeing U.S. reconstruction efforts in Afghanistan, the operation underwent a name change at the end of last year, creating a mix-up that allowed the other IGs to take the lead.

POGO has been concerned that the expanded and overlapping role for the DoD IG and other offices will undermine SIGAR’s investigations, leaving only the weaker watchdogs in place to oversee how billions of taxpayer dollars are being spent. As Congress considers the National Defense Authorization Act this fall, they still have the opportunity to address this problem. POGO supported an amendment by Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee Chairman Ron Johnson (R-WI) to ensure that SIGAR will continue serving as the lead IG overseeing U.S. reconstruction spending in Afghanistan. Congress should also consider amending SIGAR’s sunset provision (Sec. 1229).

The lack of information from the lead IG is a true disservice, Cordesman writes, because it deprives the public of critical information on “what kind of U.S. aid effort is really needed and how long it should be sustained,” and the impact on the future of the Afghan people. POGO couldn’t agree more.