More On the Now Defunct SIGIR

What fired Iraq watchdog has been watching
As well as mislaid weapons, report lists a litany of waste and other abuses
By Carl Sears, NBC News Producer
NBC News
Updated: 12:32 p.m. PT Nov 6, 2006

WASHINGTON — While surging violence grabs headlines, Iraq reconstruction continues to fall far short of U.S. and Iraqi goals, further undermining stability in the nascent democracy.

And in a “shoot the messenger” coup de grâce, the latest casualty in the war may be the office of the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction (SIGIR) whose investigations have exposed waste, fraud, and mismanagement of billions of dollars spent by U.S. taxpayers in rebuilding Iraq.

In a stealth blow during a closed-door conference on a major defense bill, the Republican side of the House Armed Services Committee inserted a provision to shutdown the Special Inspector General (IG) office led by Stuart Bowen Jr.

Tracking tax payer dollars

Bowen’s office opened in Januar 2004 with the task of tracking the $18 billion in U.S. taxpayer dollars initially allocated for Iraqi reconstruction. The Special IG office was supposed to be temporary, but then again so was the war.

The U.S. government’s plan was to execute reconstruction rapidly in Iraq — but many of the efforts have been stymied by the worsening security in the country.

“This was a waste of money because the contractors were ordered to go to Iraq to work, but they weren’t working,” explained Bowen (whose office will disappear in October 2007 unless critics of the termination prevail in having the office continue). Due to the deteriorating security situation, many contractors were forced to remain idle, but taxpayer dollars still had to pay for their food and housing while they waited to begin work in Iraq. “About $62 million was spent on overhead for contractors that only accomplished $26 million in construction work.”

By the end of September 2006, according to the latest SIGIR report, 100 percent of the $18.44 billion Iraq Relief and Reconstruction Fund (IRRF) has been “obligated” (or allocated) — and major U.S. spending is rapidly winding down. In three and a half years, over nine Congressional bills, U.S. taxpayers have paid $38.4 billion for Iraq reconstruction.

A bipartisan group led by Republican Sen. Susan Collins of Maine, the chairman of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, is seeking to keep the Special IG office in business.

“I strongly support the continuation of [Bowen’s] office as long as American tax dollars are being spent on Iraq reconstruction,” said Collins. “I am working with Senators Russ Feingold, John Warner and Joseph Lieberman and will propose legislation to extend the term of the SIGIR past the October 1, 2007, expiration date.”

Money’s worth?

Have American taxpayers gotten their money’s worth? Specific contractor abuses, such as overcharging and shoddy construction, have been well-publicized.

Many press accounts of the latest SIGIR report released Oct. 30 made particular note of the fact that the U.S. government lost track of weapons purchased with reconstruction funds for the Iraqi security forces. “There were a mixture of pistols and assault rifles,” said Bowen. “Primarily, 13,000 of them were semiautomatic nine millimeter pistols.” Where the missing weapons are is unknown.

But, in addition to the exposure of missing weapons, the SIGIR quarterly report and accompanying audit reports present one of the best assessments of U.S. progress in Iraqi reconstruction in specific sectors that is worth taking a closer look at.

Read the full report here. The MSNBC article includes details of progess in Iraq on a per-economic-sector basis.

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