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Inspector General for Iraq Under Investigation

Stuart W. Bowen Jr., special inspector general for Iraq reconstruction, has been praised by both parties for his work. Now, however, current and former employees allege that the office he leads has gone astray.
Stuart W. Bowen Jr., special inspector general for Iraq reconstruction, has been praised by both parties for his work. Now, however, current and former employees allege that the office he leads has gone astray. (Zuma Press Via Newscom)

Government investigators have requested copies of many SIGIR records on costs and savings, according to an investigative document and people familiar with the probe. SIGIR changed its calculations this year, Bowen said, to reflect actual savings and not potential savings.

As SIGIR grew in prominence, dissension was growing within the agency's offices. In 2006, several former SIGIR employees sent an eight-page complaint to the presidential council, an executive-branch oversight body, alleging that the agency's leaders had engaged in fraud, violated federal regulations, created a hostile workplace, abused their positions and "sustained patterns of inappropriate behavior." The council launched an investigation and eventually referred some of the matters to the FBI.

In an e-mail to SIGIR staff members, Bowen described the complaint filed with the presidential council as a result of "disgruntled former employees."

Since then, investigators have broadened their inquiry to include allegations that SIGIR management may have tried to influence staff members who were sought for questioning by investigators, according to people familiar with the inquiry.

Among the issues that have sparked the most internal tension have been SIGIR's overtime practices. Last year, 30 agency employees earned more than the $165,200 salary of a senator or a congressman, according to internal SIGIR documents obtained by The Post. Seven earned $100,000 or more above their salaries, the documents show. More than two dozen earned more than the $174,900 in salary and benefits paid last year to Gen. David H. Petraeus, the top U.S. military commander in Iraq. One SIGIR inspector, who had a $142,000 base salary, earned $346,017 last year, in part by claiming more than 1,200 hours of overtime.

SIGIR staff members, like other federal civilian employees, receive hazard and hardship pay equal to 70 percent of their salaries when they are in Iraq.

At least 30 SIGIR employees charged between 800 and 1,400 hours of overtime and compensatory time in 2006 -- up to almost nine months of additional work stuffed into the year. Thirty-seven others charged between 200 and 725 hours of overtime and comp time.

"The number of hours didn't wash," said a senior SIGIR official. "It's physically and mentally impossible to work that many hours."

Bowen's deputy, Ginger Cruz, said SIGIR's overtime practices are "cost-effective" because one employee earning maximum overtime is cheaper than hiring two people. She said SIGIR this year reduced overtime allowances to 24 hours per two-week pay period. She also noted that other U.S. government agencies provide generous financial packages to employees serving in Iraq.

Federal employee salaries are subject to an annual cap, which is $215,000 for this year. But additional earnings can be paid out the following year or after workers leave the agency.

Government investigators are also probing SIGIR's other expenses, including the book project about Iraq's reconstruction, according to staff members questioned by investigators. The presidential council informed SIGIR last year that the agency was being investigated for "possible fraud, waste and abuse in connection with the printing of the SIGIR history book and possible false statements made to the Office of Management and Budget to justify SIGIR funding," according to a copy of a letter from the council to SIGIR obtained by The Post.

Bowen described the book as SIGIR's "potentially most important project" in a memo he sent last month to the secretaries of state and defense and eight congressional committees.


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