The “final” report on Iraq reconstruction was released recently, and I have seen little media attention to the astonishing level of waste, incompetence, and outright theft that the report highlights.
How much money is unaccounted for? According to the report, nobody knows. After years of trying to account for the billions we poured into the rabbit hole of Iraq, the government can only say that billions were wasted, but not how much.
Some on the highlights from the report:
…”billions of American taxpayer dollars at risk of waste and misappropriation”…
…”The precise amount lost to fraud and waste can never be known,” the report said….
The auditors found huge problems accounting for the larger sums and complex projects, but it was also the smaller sums that also added up to hundreds of millions of waste and fraud:
…”Given the vicissitudes of the reconstruction effort — which was dogged from the start by persistent violence, shifting goals, constantly changing contracting practices and undermined by a lack of unity of effort — a complete accounting of all reconstruction expenditures is impossible to achieve,” the report concluded…
Although the Office of the Inspector General (OIG) has spent more than $200 million tracking the reconstruction effort, and producing numerous reports, some accountability has been realized. The OIG investigations resulted in 87 indictments, 71 convictions and $176 million in fines and other penalties.
Among those held accountable are civilians, military personnel, and contractors accused of kickbacks, bribery, bid rigging, fraud, embezzlement and outright theft of government property and funds.
Nonetheless, these actions are just a drop in the bucket trying to account for the outright criminal behavior and complete lack of governance and oversight of taxpayer funds.
One of the major overlying issues was the lack of trained, competent contracting personnel to oversee the mission. In some cases, invoices were reviewed months after they had been paid due to the lack of contracting officers.
The OIG highlighted a case in which the State Department had only one contracting officer in Iraq to validate more than $2.5 billion in spending. No contracting office representative, no help. Further, lack of any invoice review whatsoever was the modus operandi. It is easier to not ask questions, and sign the checks, as opposed to the improper micro-management of contracts on the other spectrum.
Further, the IG goes on to say:
…”As a result, invoices were not properly reviewed, and the $2.5 billion in U.S. funds were vulnerable to fraud and waste,”
“We found this lack of control to be especially disturbing since earlier reviews of the DynCorp contract had found similar weaknesses.”
The report did highlight that some funds were recovered ($60 million), but how much was wasted? Again, nobody knows.
It is easy to sit behind a keyboard and Monday-morning quarterback these failures, given the level of violence and danger, shifting sands of priorities and goals, and difficulties in securing the country. However, these failures did not occur overnight.
Endemic waste, fraud, and corruption were rampant, and the lack of trained acquisition personnel was known, or should have been known. Where are the government leaders who allowed this to happen?
The OIG report is silent. Silence seems to be acceptance.