New oversight positions key to wartime contracting reform

Wednesday - 8/31/2011, 5:46pm EDT

Katherine Schinasi and Dov Zakheim, Commission on Wartime Contracting in Iraq and Afghanistan

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By Jolie Lee
Federal News Radio

At least $31 billion and as much as $60 billion of wartime contracting dollars has been lost to fraud and waste in Iraq and Afghanistan, concludes a report released today by independent investigators.

The bipartisan Commission on Wartime Contracting in Iraq and Afghanistan said lax oversight and an over-reliance on contractors has led to the $12 million wasted per day. By the end of the 2011 fiscal year, the commission projects wartime contracting to support U.S. operations will exceed $206 billion.

What's frustrating to Katherine Schinasi, one of the eight commissioners, is the lack of urgency to change the status quo.

"It still doesn't resonate ... The fact that those numbers don't force action continues to surprise me," said Schinasi, who had worked for the Government Accountability Office for 30 years, in an interview with In Depth.

In its report, the commission made 15 recommendations to curb wasteful spending, including reducing the use of private security companies and creating some new positions. Dov Zakheim, another commissioner and a former deputy undersecretary of defense for planning and resources at the Defense Department, said the positions are key to reforming wartime contract oversight.

The commission proposed creating positions for:

  • Inspector General

    The IG would get authority and its budget from the Congress and would also report to the Congress. The position of an IG "creates a very different kind of environment," Zakheim said.

    "Being a creature of the Congress would make them much less prone to the pressure of someone in the bureacracy," he said.

  • National Security Council and Office of Management and Budget coordinator

    Currently, NSC makes decisions "totally independent" of OMB, without the agreement or sometimes without even the knowledge of OMB, Schinasi said.

  • Assistant secretaries at national security agencies

    These positions would be Senate-confirmed and report to agency heads, Zakheim said.

    "They would, by working together and being coordinated by this other independent at national security level, would foster a degree of whole of government," he said.

Zakheim said policymakers often make policy with the political — not the monetary — consequences in mind.

For example, policymakers decided to build facilities in Iraq and Afghanistan but did not anticipate the costs of maintaining those facilities. When the foreign government cannot afford to maintain the facility, the United States is left with two choices: Walk away and the money is wasted or continue spending money.

"Either way, the American taxpayer is losing out because, for God's sake, why do we undergo a project when we don't know how it's going to be sustained and managed?" Zakheim said.

Formed in 2008 by Congress, the commission was charged with studying, assessing and making recommendations on contracting in Iraq and Afghanistan. The commission will cease its operations at the end of September 2011.

Watch the press conference on C-SPAN.

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