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US Senate Democrats Criticize Bush Administration for Lack of Accountability on Iraq Spending

Members of the Senate Democratic Policy Committee held a hearing Monday to express their concern about the lack of oversight of non-military funds being spent in Iraq.

Lawmakers cited a recent audit that they say shows the Coalition Provisional Authority, which ruled Iraq from June 2003 to June 2004, distributed nearly $9 billion in Iraqi oil funds to Iraqi government ministries without any financial controls. The audit said funds were to be used for humanitarian efforts, reconstruction, disarmament and civil administration, but the authority was not able to verify that it was used for those purposes.

Frank Willis, a former official with the CPA, told the Senate Democratic panel that millions of dollars in $100 [bills] were kept in a vault in a former palace of ousted leader Saddam Hussein.

Mr. Willis said the authority would count the money when it left the vault, but that it lost track of it after that. He said the funds were used to pay contractors in the field, but in some cases, it was not clear that those being paid actually performed work.

He said part of the problem was that the CPA did not have enough workers to account for the money. "There simply were not enough people there. I think there were about 500. I believe we needed perhaps up to five-thousand," he said.

Paul Bremer, the administrator of the CPA, has defended the agency's financial practices in the past.

But Senate Democrats say they want a full accounting of the Iraq spending.

Senator Byron Dorgan of North Dakota says Democrats have to take the lead in investigating what he sees as mismanagement of funds in Iraq because Republicans who control the White House and Congress refuse to do so. "There is not only a lack of accountability, there is a lack of interest in forcing accountability by the administration and the Congress, and I think that is unfortunate," he said.

Senate Democrats plan additional hearings into the issue.