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Report Faults Oversight of Contracts for Current Wars

By Robert O'Harrow Jr.
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Contracts to support the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan were plagued by spending abuses, waste and fraud because the government workforce assigned to monitor those deals fell far short of what was needed, according to a new report by a bipartisan congressional commission.

More than $13 billion in spending on food, buildings, equipment and myriad services has been questioned by federal auditors, in part because of poor planning and oversight by the government, bad record-keeping by contractors and in some cases outright corruption, according to the report by Commission on Wartime Contracting.

In one case, the government approved millions in spending on a dining facility in Iraq that was not needed after the decision to begin withdrawing troops from the country. In another, the government accepted a multimillion-dollar construction project in Afghanistan to house senior U.S. commanders, even though fixtures were broken, bathrooms did not work and the ceilings were unfinished.

"The environment in Iraq and Afghanistan has been and continues to be susceptible to waste, fraud, and abuse," the report said.

The report, called "At What Cost? Contingency Contracting in Iraq and Afghanistan," contains the interim findings of the commission, which will issue a final report next year. It will be the subject of a hearing today of the House oversight subcommittee on national security and foreign affairs.

Michael J. Thibault, co-chairman of the commission, said there is no doubt about the severity of the problems with the contracting system during the war.

"It's showing the taxpayer is reaping the reward of inadequate contract oversight," he said.

Among those testifying at the hearing will be Alan Chvotkin, executive vice president and counsel at the Professional Services Council, a contracting trade group. Chvotkin praised the report for identifying "some troubling issues in the contracting process." But he said most of the problems have already been well documented.

"We'd like to see a greater level of analysis," he said, adding that in the final report, "I hope there's more explanation of root issues, not just more problems."

The report serves as a reminder of the extraordinary scale of spending for the wars. Congress has appropriated $830 billion to support the fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan. There are almost a quarter-million contractors who support the Pentagon, most of them foreign nationals. But, the report notes, the government has failed to "provide enough staff to perform adequate contract oversight."

Last month, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates said the Pentagon would add about 20,000 procurement workers by 2015.

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