Wartime contract waste condemned by US oversight group

1 March 2011

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1 March 2011 | Angeline Albert

Billions of dollars have been wasted by the US government’s poor use of contractors in Iraq and Afghanistan, the Commission on Wartime Contracting has said in an interim report.

The commission, a bipartisan group that studies wartime contracts, concluded that the US has wasted tens of billions of the $177 billion (£109 billion) it has spent on deals and grants to support the military, reconstruction and other US operations in Iraq and Afghanistan since 2001.

It said its study on the amount of waste and fraud in contingency contracting may underestimate the level of poor planning and oversight by the US government and blatant corruption by both government and contractor employees.

A lack of proper evaluation of contingency contractors’ performance and insufficient competition meant government “often does not obtain acceptable contract performance,” it said. Blatant corruption, it said, had contributed to “a climate in which huge amounts of waste are accepted as the norm”.

About 200,000 contractor employees work in Iraq and Afghanistan - a number equal to the American military forces deployed there. The report said “unprecedented” reliance on contractors reflected reductions in support functions within the military, but occurs at a time when the government’s ability to manage and audit contracts is suffering from years of staffing cuts.

“For many years the government has abdicated its contracting responsibilities - too often using contractors as the default mechanism, driven by considerations other than whether they provide the best solution, and without consideration for the resources needed to manage them. That is how contractors have come to account for fully half the US’ presence in contingency operations. Regrettably, our government has been slow to make the changes that could limit the dollars wasted,” it said.

The commission is calling for sweeping reforms to tackle the waste. Commission co-chairman Michael Thibault said, “When it comes to oversight of contingency contracting, we’ve been driving beyond the reach of our headlights. Reforms are badly needed.”

The interim report released to the US Congress details 32 proposals to reduce waste. These include: ensuring departments measure senior military and civilian officials’ efforts to manage contractors and control costs, growing the US government’s capability to perform critical functions so that it relies on contractors less, strengthening enforcement tools that hold contractors and the government accountable, increasing competition among contractors to promote cost savings and ensuring effective training for all who manage contracts.

The commission’s final report to the US congress is expected in July 2011.

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