Shooting the Messenger
It's too soon to put the special inspector general for Iraqi reconstruction out of business.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

IN THE MESS that is Iraq, there's one entity that has done an unquestionably good job: the special inspector general for Iraqi reconstruction. Under the leadership of Stuart W. Bowen Jr., the inspector general's office has found that the Coalition Provisional Authority could not account for almost $9 billion distributed to Iraqi ministries. Mr. Bowen's office determined that the U.S. government lost track of thousands of pistols and hundreds of assault rifles given to Iraqi security forces. It found that Halliburton Co. wasted $75 million on a failed pipeline project and that Parsons Corp. bungled construction of a $75 million police academy in Baghdad so badly that human waste dripped from the ceilings. Its audits have saved the government more than $400 million.

Now there's a move to close down Mr. Bowen's shop. More than a move, actually: A mischievous provision, slipped into the defense authorization bill by House Republicans without the knowledge of key senators, set an October 2007 termination date for the office. The bill was signed into law last month, but a number of senators, including Susan Collins (R-Maine), chairman of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee; Joseph I. Lieberman (D-Conn.), the committee's ranking minority member; and Russell Feingold (D-Wis.), are trying to reverse this foolish plan during the lame-duck session.

Unfortunately, a promising legislative vehicle for their attempt, a military construction spending bill, is snarled in a separate dispute about earmarks. The Senate is poised to approve a stand-alone fix, but House Armed Services Committee Chairman Duncan Hunter (R-Calif.), who was responsible for the early termination, is said to be resisting a fix. The rationale is that the need for the inspector general's services is diminishing along with U.S. reconstruction funds and that remaining work can be picked up by State and Defense Department inspectors general. But that ignores an additional $3.6 billion provided for reconstruction efforts in the latest defense bill and the expertise that Mr. Bowen's shop has demonstrated in doing this difficult work. When it returns next week, the Senate should pass the measure extending Mr. Bowen's tenure, and the House should go along.

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