Friday, February 09, 2007

Oversight of Iraq Relief & Reconstruction Programs

Yesterday I sat in on a State/Foreign Operations Appropriations Subcommittee hearing on Iraq reconstruction oversight. Witnesses included Stuart Bowen, the Special Inspector General of Iraq Reconstruction; Donald Gambatesa, Inspector General of the USAID; and Howard J. Krongard, Inspector General for the State Department. The purpose of the hearing was to determine what after four years and $38 billion for Iraq relief and reconstruction, have we achieved?

First to testify was Stuart Bowen, of SIGIR. His testimony gave a relatively positive report on the success of reconstruction projects, but he said that Iraqis--and one must presume Americans as well--did not hear about the successes, only the failures. Here are some highlights of his statement before the committee:

"SIGIR investigations have produced five arrests and four convictions, with another 23 cases under prosecution at the Department of Justice...SIGIR advice and recommendations on policy have promoted economy, efficiency, and effectiveness in the conduct of the US reconstruction program in Iraq and have served as a deterrent to malfeasance...SIGIR audit have saved or recovered $50 million and have identified the potential to recover and additional $106 million. SIGIR investigators have recovered or seized $9.5 million in assets and are working on the recovery of an additional $15 million...SIGIR inspectors also found that engineering improvements to oil pipelines could increase oil exports and potentially increase the volume of Iraqi oil revenues by more than $1 billion annually if the pipeline can be effectively secured...To date, approximately 70 percent of the 80 projects inspected on sight by SIGIR complied with contract specifications."

For more on the SIGIR reports be sure to read these postings. Giving his statement next was Donald Gambatesa, Inspector General for USAID. His statement briefly mentioned the relative success of five USAID program areas: agriculture (96% success), basic education (40% success), civil society/local governance (date unavailable due to lack of monitoring), electrical power (68% success), and water/sanitation rehabilitation (88% success). Gambatesa echoed Bowen in saying that security conditions impeded the inspection of many project sites.

Gambatesa was followed by Howard J. Krongard, Inspector General for the State Department. His statement was more prescriptive than descriptive, as he suggested a way to "ameliorate the foregoing difficulties" of inspection and oversight (i.e. lack of security for inspector general personnel) by establishing a Middle East Regional Office "to provide oversight for crisis and post-conflict State Department programs in Iraq and elsewhere in the region."

Another interesting bit of the hearing came when Ranking Member Wolf suggested the creation of a "decider" position for all things reconstruction-related in Iraq, à la General MacArthur in post-WWII Japan.

Provincial Reconstruction Teams (PRTs) were a recurrent topic since they are a critical part of Bush's New Strategy in Iraq. Chairwoman Lowey asked the Inspector Generals about the feasibility and efficacy of sending largely civilian PRTs into Iraq. Bowen responded that security was a problem for all 9 (mostly military) PRTs in Iraq at the time of his last quarterly audit. Although several efficacy audits of PRT efforts are currently underway and therefore there is no hard data to draw from, Bowen made it a point to mention the crucial role PRTs play in training local officials in democratic practices.

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