The U.S. government's independent inspector for Iraq is calling for reforming contracting procedures in an effort to avoid the kinds of problems that have delayed reconstruction projects in post-war Iraq.
In the latest of a series of reports to Congress, Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction Stuart Bowen said the U.S.-led reconstruction of Iraq was hampered by the lack of qualified personnel based in the country, insufficient staffing within procurement offices and heavy rotation of personnel.
The Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee conducted a hearing on the matter Wednesday. Senator Susan Collins, a Maine Republican, is chairwoman. "The reports of the Inspector General indicate that while billions of dollars have been spent, reconstruction has fallen far short of promised outcomes," she said.
The report says while most U.S. projects, some 82 percent, have been completed in Iraq, some important ones have yet to begin, including critical projects in the area of health care.
The report comes as U.S. funding for reconstruction is running out. Of the $21 billion authorized by Congress, $15 billion has already been spent and another $4 billion has already been committed to future projects. U.S. officials face a deadline at the end of next month for deciding how to spend the remaining $2 billion, and it is becoming increasingly clear that many promises made on reconstruction will not be met.
Inspector General Bowen says part of the problem was that there was no streamlined approach to contracting in Iraq. "Contracting entities in Iraq developed ad hoc operating systems and procedures, which limited efficiency and led to inconsistent documentation, a fact demonstrated repeatedly in our audits," he said.
To avoid such problems in the future, Bowden recommends the U.S. government establish a unified contracting entity to coordinate all contracting activity in country.
He also suggests creating a deployable reserve corps of contracting personnel who are trained to execute rapid relief and reconstruction contracting.
Bowen says his office is investigating more than 80 cases of wrongdoing, including fraud and corruption, but he says the government has shown progress in improving its contracting in Iraq.
He acknowledged that the deteriorating security situation in Iraq complicated the contracting process by increasing costs and making it difficult for contractors to travel to work sites.
Some U.S.-funded projects will have to be completed by the Iraqis. Bowen says he is concerned by evidence of corruption in many Iraqi institutions, which he says is diluting resources and eroding trust in government. "Corruption in Iraq as we point out in this quarterly report is endemic, we call it a pandemic. Indeed, the focus of it has been primarily in the ministry of oil and the ministry of defense. The ministry of oil is beset by smuggling problems, and by sheer thievery," he said.
Bowen says senior Iraqi leaders are aware of the problem, and that the United States is training Iraqis to combat it.
He also called on the international community to invest more in Iraq, saying it must play an important role in the reconstruction of Iraq.