U.S. taxpayers have spent almost $51 billion on post-war reconstruction in Iraq. The inspector general for Iraq Reconstruction says much of this money was filtered to contractors with little government oversight, leading to massive fraud and little progress in rebuilding Iraq. Experts warn that the U.S. could be headed for a repeat as it ramps up its operations in Afghanistan.
Waste, fraud and abuse. Those are the words most frequently used by U.S. Inspector General Stuart Bowen to describe the poorly managed reconstruction efforts he investigated in 21 visits to Iraq.
Bowen, who helped author a report titled, "Hard Lessons," testified on Monday before a special bipartisan Senate commission investigating wartime contracting problems.
"The overarching lesson as, I've said, is the United States government had neither the structure nor the resources in place to mount the major contingency relief and reconstruction program it took on in Iraq in mid-2003," said Bowen.
Bowen says the United States has spent 25 times more than what pre-war planners initially envisioned, which was about $2.5 billion. While Bowen acknowledged there have been some successes, many projects, he says, ran over budget or were executed improperly.
For example, a wastewater treatment facility in Fallujah that was supposed to have been completed three years ago will not be finished until September. Even more problematic, says Bowen, was that the contract did not include connecting people's homes to sewer lines.
Bowen says the focus has shifted from repairing war damage and avoiding humanitarian disaster to a large-scale reconstruction program, but that it has neglected areas such as agriculture and governance.
Senator Claire McCaskill of Missouri was a co-sponsor of the bill that created the Wartime Contracting Commission, which is modeled after a similar body created to investigate government waste after World War II.
McCaskill called U.S. reconstruction operations in Iraq a "massive failure".
"Hundreds of billions of dollars have disappeared. Everything has been stolen - from money to heavy equipment to guns," said Senator McCaskill. "The scandalous part about the guns that we didn't keep track of is that people in the military will tell you that they are confident that our weapons were stolen, sold and used against our own soldiers. If we do not find accountability, then really, we have added to the problem of wasting taxpayers' money."
Inspector General Bowen told the commission it is important to learn from these lessons in order to avoid making similar mistakes in Afghanistan.
"Frequently, those deployed didn't have the right skills to carry out the missions to which they were assigned," said Bowen. "This is essential to ensure that next time a contingency operation is confronted by the United States that there are personnel ready to deploy who can do the job. And actually, the next time is upon us. It's in Afghanistan."
Bowen says the United States has already appropriated $32 billion for projects in Afghanistan and will likely spend more as American operations there continue. He added that nearly $5 billion for Iraq has yet to be put under contract and that there is much work yet to be done.