Inspector General for Iraq Under Investigation
Friday, December 14, 2007
Over the past four years, Inspector General Stuart W. Bowen Jr. and his staff have probed allegations of waste and fraud in the $22 billion U.S. effort to rebuild Iraq. Their work has led to arrests, indictments and millions of dollars in fines. And it has earned Bowen, who had been a legal adviser to President Bush, many admirers among both parties on Capitol Hill for his efforts to identify overspending and mismanagement.
But Bowen's office has also been roiled by allegations of its own overspending and mismanagement. Current and former employees have complained about overtime policies that allowed 10 staff members to earn more than $250,000 each last year. They have questioned the oversight of a $3.5 million book project about Iraq's reconstruction modeled after the 9/11 Commission report. And they have alleged that Bowen and his deputy have improperly snooped into their staff's e-mail messages.
The employee allegations have prompted four government probes into the Office of the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction (SIGIR), including an investigation by the FBI and federal prosecutors into the agency's financial practices and claims of e-mail monitoring, according to law enforcement sources and SIGIR staff members. Federal prosecutors have presented evidence of alleged wrongdoing to a grand jury in Virginia, which has subpoenaed SIGIR for thousands of pages of financial documents, contracts, personnel records and correspondence, several sources familiar with the probe said.
The House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, the Presidential Council on Integrity and Efficiency, and the Army's Equal Employment Opportunity Office are also engaged in separate investigations into complaints from SIGIR staff members, according to current and former SIGIR officials and others familiar with the individual probes. The allegations range from retaliatory firing of a whistle-blower to "sustained patterns of inappropriate behavior," according to employee complaints obtained by The Washington Post.
Bowen declined a request for an interview but addressed several questions by e-mail. He said that "no current SIGIR official has been notified that he or she is the subject or target of any such investigation." He also said the congressional investigation had ended, and he refused to comment on the complaint to the Army.
Spokesmen for the FBI, the U.S. attorney for the Western District of Virginia and the presidential council refused to comment, but law enforcement sources said all three investigations are continuing. David Marin, the minority staff director of the House oversight committee, said yesterday that the congressional investigation, which focuses on charges made by SIGIR whistle-blowers, "is ongoing."
There are now so many probes that a senior SIGIR official said the agency's Crystal City headquarters is "gripped by paranoia. It's almost a siege mentality."
That official, and more than two dozen other current and former SIGIR employees interviewed for this article, spoke on the condition of anonymity because FBI and presidential council officials have asked them to refrain from public comments while the investigations proceed. Others did not want to be quoted by name because of fear of retribution by top SIGIR officials.
SIGIR was created by Congress in 2004 to act as the chief watchdog over the effort to stabilize Iraq by building hospitals and schools, training security forces and increasing electricity production. The agency quickly earned a reputation as a tenacious, apolitical investigative body, identifying cases of corruption, wasteful spending and mismanagement that have led to 13 arrests and more than $17 million in fines.
Members of Congress have heaped praise on Bowen, who served as a legal adviser to Bush when he was governor of Texas. He has been asked to testify at dozens of congressional hearings. Democrats have expressed particular delight that a close ally of the president's was willing to speak out about problems with Iraq's reconstruction.
SIGIR claimed in an October 2006 report that its "financial impact" -- the cost savings resulting from its work, the funds it recovered and other benefits -- was as much as $1.87 billion. The report led to an extension of SIGIR's mandate last December. "SIGIR's oversight during this process has been essential to ensuring that the taxpayers' dollars are being used effectively and efficiently," Sen. Norm Coleman (R-Minn.) said at the time.
But after other government agencies challenged that figure, arguing that proper accounting standards were not used in calculating the estimate and that SIGIR did not distinguish between U.S. funds and Iraqi funds, SIGIR revised the number in a report this summer. The new estimate was less than $95 million, only 5 percent of the previous claim.