Arnold Fields, watchdog over Afghan reconstruction, resigns amid congressional pressure

Continued photo coverage from the front lines of the U.S., Afghan and NATO military effort in Afghanistan.
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, January 10, 2011; 8:51 PM

The head of the office charged with investigating corruption in the multibillion-dollar effort to rebuild Afghanistan has resigned, the White House said Monday, following congressional demands that the White House replace him.

Arnold Fields, a retired Marine major general, was named special inspector general for Afghanistan reconstruction in 2008, when the office was first established along the lines of a similar effort that has uncovered hundreds of millions of dollars of waste and fraud in Iraq. Fields's resignation comes a week after he fired his two deputies, saying the organization needed "new blood."

"The President and the American people owe him a debt of gratitude for his courage, leadership, and selfless service to our nation," the White House said in a statement announcing Fields's resignation.

Fields said he intended "to use the next month to ensure a smooth transition," but no immediate replacement was named.

A bipartisan group of senators, led by Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.), asked President Obama in September to "begin the process of removing" Fields based on concerns they had raised repeatedly since early 2009.

The Office of the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction, or SIGAR, is charged with oversight of the $56 billion that the United States has committed since 2002 to nonmilitary development and humanitarian assistance programs.

But an August review of the office by the Council of Inspectors General on Integrity and Efficiency found that its audits were of poor quality and that the office lacked a strategic plan.

"I don't mean to be cruel," McCaskill told Fields at a November hearing. "I don't think you're the right person for this job."

The hearing, of the Senate homeland security committee's contracting oversight subcommittee, focused on SIGAR's completion of only four contract audits. The agency had identified only $8 million in misspent money with its $46 million in office expenditures.

Fields was also criticized for awarding a $96,000 no-bid, two-month contract last year to Joseph Schmitz, who resigned as the Defense Department inspector general in 2005, to "monitor" SIGAR's performance.

In a letter Monday to his staff, Fields called the job "one of the most rewarding and certainly one of the most challenging I have thus far experienced," noting that he was "asked to build this organization from the ground up."

SIGAR has been plagued with problems since its inception during the last year of the George W. Bush administration, when Congress established it as an independent watchdog but failed to fully fund it for nearly a year. Hiring lagged, and Fields had difficulty recruiting auditors and investigators.

CONTINUED     1        >

© 2011 The Washington Post Company