Senate agrees to audit war contracts

The House must still approve the amendment for the review commission to be formed.
Monday, October 1, 2007 | 9:37 p.m. CDT; updated 4:27 p.m. CDT, Sunday, July 20, 2008

COLUMBIA — The U.S. Senate has approved the creation of an investigative commission to examine wartime contracts in Afghanistan and Iraq following reports of fraud and mismanagement of contracts worth billions of tax dollars.

Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., a former auditor, co-sponsored the initiative introduced in July by Sen. Jim Webb, D-Va. The bipartisan commission would consist of eight members working with the special inspector general on Iraq reconstruction to review the impact of wartime contracts.

The commission would assess the government’s reliance on contracts, management and performance of contractors and the scope of waste, fraud, abuse or mismanagement.

The commission would have two years from its inception to submit a final report on its findings.

The Senate approved the commission Thursday as an amendment to the Defense Authorization Bill that will fund the Department of Defense for fiscal year 2008.

On Monday, the Senate voted on a final version of the bill. The U.S. House of Representatives must also approve of the amendment, leaving the commission’s future uncertain.

“We’re very hopeful it will make it through the Senate-House conference,” said Maria Speiser, a spokeswoman for McCaskill.

Sen. Kit Bond, R-Mo., vice chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, agrees that contract abuse must be addressed but doesn’t believe the proposed commission is the best option.

“A commission would not be my choice to address potential problems with these contractors,” he wrote in an e-mail. “I often find that commissions don’t work and the findings are largely ignored.”

Lara Battles, a spokeswoman for the House Armed Services Committee, said, “I think there’s a great deal of concern on both sides of the aisle (about contract abuse) ... I think there is a lot of agreement that this is something that will have to be taken care of.”

The House’s final version of the defense bill did not include the creation of a commission. Instead, it called for the comptroller general to review contracts in Iraq and Afghanistan every six months and submit reports to congressional committees. The reports would cover issues like contract competition, cost and contractor work.

The commission supported by McCaskill in the Senate would study contracts issued for the support of coalition troops and the rebuilding of Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as security and intelligence services.

Money mishandling related to the wars has led to investigations that resulted in criminal charges for briberies, kickbacks and money laundering.

In July, the House Armed Services Committee heard from Defense Department officials who said the department had 90 ongoing criminal investigations of contractors and government personnel. The department recovered more than $10 million from investigations, according to the report from the principal deputy inspector of the Department of Defense, Thomas Gimble.

According to documents presented to the committee by Gimble, all cases of war profiteering and contract corruption originated in Afghanistan, Iraq, Kuwait, Qatar and Saudi Arabia.

Lt. Gen. N. Ross Thompson and military official Kathryn Condon reported in July to the Armed Services Committee that in 2006 the U.S. had contracts operating in Kuwait worth $1 billion.

The proposed commission would expand the office of the special inspector general of Iraq reconstruction to audit all wartime contracts connected to the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, not just those connected to rebuilding Iraq. In July, the inspector general’s office reported it is pursuing 57 investigations and that its audits recuperated $57.8 million.

The Department of Defense, the Department of Justice and the Government Accounting Office have already established commissions, task forces or groups to investigate and report on contract abuse in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The congressional committee would differ from other commissions in its bipartisanship and its approach to investigations.

MU political science professor Herbert Tillema said the Department of Defense and Department of Justice usually take a longer time than congressional commissions to report and investigate government activity because their investigations can result in criminal charges.

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