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Inspector General Details Failures of Iraq Reconstruction

By Dana Hedgpeth
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, March 22, 2007

The U.S. government was unprepared for the extensive nation-building required after it invaded Iraq, and at each juncture where it could have adjusted its efforts, it failed even to understand the problems it faced, according to the special inspector general for Iraq reconstruction.

In a stinging, wide-ranging assessment of U.S. reconstruction efforts, Stuart W. Bowen Jr. said that in the days after the invasion, the Defense Department had no strategy for restoring either government institutions or infrastructure. And in the years since, other agencies joined the effort without an overall plan and without a structure in place to organize and execute a task of such magnitude.

Lines of authority remained unclear in the reconstruction effort. With a demand for speed and a shortage of government personnel, much of the oversight was turned over to the contractors doing the work. There was little coordination among the various agencies. The result was a series of missed opportunities to address the unraveling situation, Bowen said.

"Many layers of management . . . made it difficult to determine who had ultimate authority over money, people and projects," he said.

Bowen, who briefed reporters yesterday, plans to present his report today to the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs.

The report makes nine recommendations, including one for legislation to organize departments and agencies involved in postwar operations along the lines of the 1986 Goldwater-Nichols Department of Defense Reorganization Act, which integrated the service branches, strengthened the joint staff and eliminated operational overlap. The report suggested a similar process to meld reconstruction planning and execution by the State and Defense departments and the U.S. Agency for International Development.

Other recommendations include improving contracting and procurement guidelines, involving people who are familiar with a region, using local contractors and vendors, better planning of short- and long-term reconstruction programs, and establishing guidelines on the length of tours for those working on reconstruction projects.

For the first time, the report lays out a timeline documenting the paucity of planning from the beginning of the war in Iraq, noting what was needed when and describing how the scale of reconstruction grew once the United States was in Iraq. It details how Congress provided vast amounts of money with little idea of how it was being spent. The push to get things done quickly meant turning much of the reconstruction over to contractors with little oversight from the government, as security worsened. And the lack of coordination magnified every shortcoming.

"We seem to have a political-planning cone and a military-planning cone, and the two don't intersect," said Carlos Pascual of the Brookings Institution, a former State Department coordinator for reconstruction and stabilization. Although the problems in Iraq seemed destined to overwhelm even the most comprehensive planning, he said, it would still be useful to integrate the efforts of different agencies.

Bowen said changes like those that took place in Iraq are not "short-term affairs."

"They are complicated, with social, political and security dimensions, and if you can't think of all the pieces of them together, then you're not ever going to end up with a response that works," he said.

Other experts questioned whether it was possible to legislate joint planning among government agencies of vastly different sizes, budgets and missions. Like two previous reports on Iraq reconstruction, the third "lessons learned" compilation traces the effort from the short-lived Office of Reconstruction and Humanitarian Assistance; through the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA), which ceased to exist in June 2004; and since the opening of a U.S. Embassy in Baghdad and return of sovereignty to an Iraqi government.

Titled "Iraq Reconstruction: Lessons in Program and Project Management," the report provides new details in a familiar story of unrealistic administration expectations for Iraq, inadequate planning and ever-changing goals, and lax to nonexistent oversight.

In one example, the report details what happened in the spring of 2003, when the first big appropriation of money for reconstruction was approved.

"Notwithstanding this new spending authority, many program managers in Iraq found that, during the summer of 2003, their budgets were being cut because of CPA's shifting spending strategies. . . . One contractor had to lay off people, close regional offices, and scale down reconstruction efforts," the report says, identifying him in a footnote only as a USAID contractor.

Security was an overriding consideration, but there were no suggestions early on that civilian workers would be unsafe in Iraq, the report says.

"One project experienced 'three evacuations, a hijacking incident, and the ransacking of [two project] offices.' Looting, sabotage, and attacks on people occurred at some of the infrastructure contractor's construction sites," the report said.

As a result, some contractors moved to northern Iraq and left Iraqi employees to run projects.

Initial post-invasion plans were "off the mark," Bowen said. There were assumptions that the Iraq infrastructure was in "reasonably good shape," the Iraqi government would be "able to pick up and sustain itself rapidly," and that the Iraqi oil and gas production would provide revenue to help in the recovery of the country -- all of which proved unfounded, he said.

The shift from the CPA to other organizations created "challenges throughout," he said. "Among them was a shift in leadership, a shift in funding emphasis and the challenges of multi-agency operations in an unstable environment and the enormous mission of carrying out the largest reconstruction program since the Marshall Plan."

Staff writer Karen DeYoung contributed to this report.

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