Thibault defends departing Afghanistan IG

Thursday - 1/20/2011, 10:08am EST

Mike Thibault, Co-Chair , Commission on Wartime Contracting in Iraq and Afghanistan

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By Suzanne Kubota
Senior Internet Editor
FederalNewsRadio.com

As the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction, Maj. Gen. Arnold Fields (USMC, Ret.) has taken heat from Capitol Hill and fellow Inspectors General. In December 2009, three senators complained to President Barack Obama that Fields had failed to hire enough staff and issued too few audits and investigative reports.

Earlier this month, Fields announced he will step down February 4th, after nearly three years in the job overseeing tens of billions of dollars spent in Afghanistan.

Mike Thibault, the Co-Chair of the Commission on Wartime Contracting in Iraq and Afghanistan told Federal News Radio he's not convinced the criticism was warranted.

"I'm not sure it's been totally fair," said Thibault, "but there's an immediate expectation when you appoint someone to this kind of position to timely identify fraud, waste and abuse."

Thibault said Fields was asked to start up an organization from scratch. "Hiring that kind of talent and that kind of leadership is a real challenge," said Thibault and wondered if Fields was given enough time to demonstrate the kind of work he could do.

The work Fields managed to accomplish so far has been effective, said Thibault and "his organization has been an incredibly strong deterrent to those that would partake in fraud, waste and abuse. And if there's a gap there where there isn't aggressive, independent oversight, it sends the wrong message to those who would say 'Maybe I can get away with something because maybe no one cares or maybe there's less interest.' Now, that's not the case."

As an example, Thibault said he's looking forward "very much" to "hearing what General Fields has to say" this coming Monday during a scheduled hearing on problems in U.S.-funded construction projects in Afghanistan.

Expect to hear examples from Fields where American soldiers are sleeping in large tents, inches from each other because barracks have been boarded up due to shoddy construction, said Thibault, "and that's just not right."

As far as changes to oversight in the future, Thibault said maybe there should be one organization looking at the organization of oversight or to consider how oversight could be made more effective through better coordination. Thibauld said to watch for an interim report from the Commission to "tee that up" in February.