US is warned not to repeat waste, fraud in Afghanistan
Watchdogs cite lessons of Iraq
WASHINGTON - Waste and corruption that marred Iraq's reconstruction will be repeated in Afghanistan unless the United States transforms the unwieldy bureaucracy managing tens of billions of dollars in infrastructure projects, government watchdogs warned yesterday.
The United States has devoted more than $30 billion to rebuilding Afghanistan. Yet despite the hard lessons learned in Iraq, where the United States has spent nearly $51 billion on reconstruction, the effort in Afghanistan is headed down the same path, the watchdogs told a new panel investigating wartime contracts.
"Before we go pouring more money in, we really need to know what we're trying to accomplish [in Afghanistan]," said Ginger Cruz, deputy special inspector general for Iraq reconstruction. "And at what point do you turn off the spigot so you're not pouring money into a black hole?"
Better cooperation among federal agencies, more flexible contracting rules, constant oversight and experienced acquisition teams are among the changes urged by the officials in order to make sure money isn't wasted and contractors don't cheat.
Cruz, along with Stuart Bowen, the top US official overseeing Iraq's reconstruction, delivered a grim report to the Commission on Wartime Contracting.
Their assessment, along with testimony from Thomas Gimble of the Defense Department inspector general's office, laid out a history of poor planning, weak oversight and greed that soaked US taxpayers and undermined American forces in Iraq.
Bowen, who has made 21 trips to Iraq since he was appointed in October 2004, said the United States has financed a wide array of projects in Iraq - from training the Iraqi army and police to rebuilding the country's oil, electric, justice, health and transportation sectors.
Some of these projects succeeded, Bowen told the commission at its first public hearing, but many did not.
Violence in Iraq and constant friction between US officials in Washington and Baghdad were also major factors that undercut progress.
A 456-page study by Bowen's office, "Hard Lessons: The Iraq Reconstruction Experience," reviews the problems in an effort the Bush administration initially thought would cost $2.4 billion.
The US government "was neither prepared for nor able to respond quickly to the ever-changing demands" of stabilizing Iraq and then rebuilding it, said Bowen.
"For the last six years we have been on a steep learning curve," he said.