The federal agency overseeing the rebuilding of Iraq revealed this week that the government has no idea how billions of taxpayer dollars were spent on reconstruction and relief efforts in Iraq over the past decade, and estimates at least $8 billion has been lost to fraud, waste, and abuse.
In an audit report released Wednesday, two weeks before the tenth anniversary of the U.S. invasion of Iraq, the soon-to-be-defunct Office of the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction (SIGIR) found that incomplete data and inconsistent cost reporting have made it impossible to track a large portion of the $53 billion the U.S. spent to rebuild Iraq from 2003 through September 30, 2012.
“During SIGIR’s six months of effort, we could not find reliably complete information showing what U.S. construction funds accomplished,” according to the report. “A full accounting, if ever possible, would require combing through mountains of disordered electronic and paper records accumulated since 2003 that are currently stored in multiple locations across many agencies.”
The report’s grim conclusion: “The full story on the use of billions of U.S. dollars for reconstructing Iraq will forever remain incomplete.”
What should grab the attention of everyone currently freaking out about the federal deficit, however, is the price tag of the government’s failure to accurately account for its investment in Iraq. SIGIR estimates that the overall amount of taxpayer money lost to fraud, waste, and abuse “would range up to at least 15% of Iraq relief and reconstruction spending or at least $8 billion.” This is in line with the key finding of the Commission on Wartime Contracting in Iraq and Afghanistan, which in 2011 also pegged the amount lost in both countries at between 15 to 20 percent of the total spent up to that point. Of course, there’s no telling how much the waste in Iraq and Afghanistan will continue to grow over the coming years if both countries are unable to sustain the thousands of reconstruction projects funded by the U.S.
Special Inspector General Stuart Bowen once remarked that the hundreds of audits and inspections SIGIR has performed since its creation in 2004 “tell an episodic story of waste,” which POGO has frequentlydocumentedon this blog and in our Federal Contractor Misconduct Database. SIGIR will close its doors this month after racking up an impressive list of accomplishments, not the least of which is that it has saved taxpayers more than $1 billion.