Auditors: Billions wasted in Iraq war
By HOPE YEN, Associated Press Writer Thu Feb 15, 11:20 AM ET
WASHINGTON – The U.S. government is at risk of squandering significantly more money in an Iraq war and reconstruction effort that has already wasted or otherwise overcharged taxpayers billions of dollars, federal investigators said Thursday.
The three top auditors overseeing contract work in Iraq told a House committee of $10 billion in spending that was wasteful or poorly tracked. They pointed to numerous instances in which Defense and State department officials condoned or otherwise allowed poor accounting, repeated work delays, bloated expenses and payments for work shoddily or never done by U.S. contractors.
That problem could worsen, the Government Accountability Office said, given limited improvement so far by the Department of Defense even as the Bush administration prepares to boost the U.S. presence in Iraq.
Given “the need for continued support for deployed forces, it is essential for DOD to address these shortcomings if the department is to increase its return on its investment in Iraq,” said David M. Walker, comptroller general of the GAO, Congress’ auditing arm, in prepared testimony.
The auditors’ joint appearance before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee comes as Congress is preparing for a showdown with
President Bush next month over his budget request of nearly $100 billion to pay for more U.S. troops in Iraq.
Also testifying Thursday were Stuart Bowen, the special inspector general for Iraq reconstruction, and William Reed, director of the Defense Contract Audit Agency.
According to their testimony, the investigators:
_Found overpricing and waste in Iraq contracts amounting to $4.9 billion since the Defense Contract Audit Agency began its work in 2003, although some of that money has since been recovered. Another $5.1 billion in expenses were charged without proper documentation.
_Urged the Pentagon to reconsider its growing reliance on outside contractors to run the nation’s wars and reconstruction efforts. Layers of subcontractors, poor documentation and lack of strong contract management are rampant and promote waste even after the GAO first warned of problems 15 years ago.
_Pointed to growing Iraqi sectarian violence as a significant factor behind wasted U.S. dollars. Iraqi officials must begin to take primary responsibility for reconstruction efforts, an uncertain goal given widespread corruption in Iraq and the local government’s inability to fund projects.
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