February 2nd, 2009
12:30 PM ET
12 years ago

New government commission blasts Iraq waste, fraud

[cnn-photo-caption image= http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2009/images/02/02/art.webb.gi.jpg caption="'Every interested American knows that there was rampant fraud, waste, and abuse following the invasion of Iraq,' Sen. Jim Webb, D-Virginia, said."]WASHINGTON (CNN) - Citing the need to restore public trust in an inefficient and allegedly corrupt military procurement process, a new government commission Monday officially began hearings to account for billions of taxpayer dollars misspent in Iraq and Afghanistan.

"Every interested American knows that there was rampant fraud, waste, and abuse following the invasion of Iraq," Sen. Jim Webb, D-Virginia, said at the opening hearing of the Commission on Wartime Contracting in Iraq and Afghanistan.

"They all know it, and they want us to demonstrate that we're willing to do something about it not simply in terms of process but in terms of accountability."

The seven-member commission begins its work as the U.S. military prepares to cut troop levels in Iraq, but strengthen its presence in Afghanistan, where Taliban and al-Qaeda elements have made gains in recent years.

A key commission goal is to ensure that the mistakes and corruption that have plagued the Iraqi reconstruction effort are not repeated as the primary focus potentially shifts back to Afghanistan.

"The record ... is littered with too many examples of buildings unfit for use, projects that can't be maintained at original scope and cost estimates, weapons and money gone missing, and outright fraud on the U.S. taxpayer," commission co-chair Mike Thibault said.

In a symbolic gesture, the commission's opening session was held in the same Senate hearing room used by the Truman Committee, believed to have recovered billions of taxpayer dollars by investigating military profiteering during World War II.

Like the Truman Committee, led by then-Sen. Harry Truman, "the Commission on Wartime Contracting's reason for existence is to ensure that the government pays fair and reasonable prices for the goods and services that it buys to support our war fighters," Thibault noted.

"Harry Truman has been rolling in his grave for the last five years," Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Missouri, said. "He, in fact, has been in constant motion in his grave. He is astounded that we allowed this problem to get this far out of control. This has been a massive failure. We have failed our military and we have failed the American people."

McCaskill told the commission it was "going to need a two by four" to begin fixing the situation.

The Commission on Wartime Contracting (CWC), according to its Web site, is empowered to refer any violation or potential violation of law it identifies to the Attorney General. It is required to provide two annual reports to Congress: an interim report due May 1, 2009, and a final report due by August 2010.

The CWC's opening hearing highlighted the release of a new report on abuses in the Iraq reconstruction effort.

Titled "Hard Lessons: The Iraq Reconstruction Experience," the report says, among other things, that the massive reconstruction initiative was marked by waste and failures caused by "blinkered and disjointed" pre-war planning.

"Egregious examples of fraud" in Iraq, the report concludes, "grossly overburdened" the program.

"The overuse of cost-plus contracts, high contractor overhead expenses, excessive contractor award fees, and unacceptable program and project delays all contributed to a significant waste of taxpayers dollars," the report says.

The report includes multiple examples of waste, including a "skeletal, half-built" shell of a maximum-security prison in Khan Bani Saad, which "will probably never house an inmate" even though the United States spent $40 million on the now-halted $73 million project.

The project, sarcastically called "the whale" by local Iraqi observers, is described in the report as "perhaps the single greatest project failure in the U.S. reconstruction program" in part due to "poor security and weak subcontractor performance."

Looking beyond issues of waste and corruption, the report points out that Iraqi reconstruction was also hampered by the fact that it was pursued amid a deteriorating security situation.

"Why was an extensive rebuilding plan carried out in a gravely unstable security environment? asked Stuart W. Bowen Jr., the special inspector general for Iraq reconstruction - whose oversight jurisdiction covers $50 billion in U.S. funds appropriated by Congress for Iraq.

"This question underscores an overarching hard lesson from Iraq: Beware of pursuing large-scale reconstruction programs while significant conflict continues."

The Iraq program was additionally marked by frequent changes in reconstruction strategy, "turbulence" caused by personnel turnover and "poor integration" of work by various U.S. government agencies. This was the result of "weak unity of command and inconsistent unity of effort."

Much of the "Hard Lessons" report looks to the future. It stresses the importance of developing "an agreed-upon doctrine and structure" for reconstruction "so that the United States is ready when it next must intervene in a failed or failing state."

The first of several principles mentioned for such operations: "Security is necessary for large-scale reconstruction to succeed."

- CNN's Joe Sterling contributed to this report

Filed under: Jim Webb
soundoff (108 Responses)
  1. Thomas

    YES< YES<YES !
    Thank you JIM WEBB !

    Mr Webb, when you finally arrive at a number , amount of wasteful and irresponsible spending in the Bush War .

    Please send statement along with a bill to Mr. Rush Linbaugh at Clear Channel . Reallocating these funds will help stimulate the economy and make Rush feel better about the stimulus package !

    This corrupt mindset , on the battle field, or Wall street is unacceptable and criminal !

    February 2, 2009 01:32 pm at 1:32 pm |
  2. obama-mama

    It is just disgusting how Bush allowed this to happen on his watch and now we're all suffering for it. Somebody needs to answer. It's as if he just gave the hard working Americans money to Iraq and line his and Cheyney's pockets. A complete disgrace.

    February 2, 2009 01:33 pm at 1:33 pm |
  3. Mark

    Are they going to review Obamas stimulus package?

    February 2, 2009 01:34 pm at 1:34 pm |
  4. gary n.

    Can you spell H A L L I B U R T O N ?

    February 2, 2009 01:35 pm at 1:35 pm |
  5. J.P..

    Companies don't just perform un-requested work and then hold the government at gun-point to pay for it...

    Didn't a contracting officer have to sign the freaking contracts, FIRST, before any work could occur? Did the contracting officer not follow-up and do periodic checks to see if the contractor was performing according to the contract? How about the government project champion or government project officer on these projects? Did they not do their jobs in keeping good oversight?

    Why are they not looking at these three groups of people? We had them when I worked in DoD, and I know they have them now... start your investigations there.

    February 2, 2009 01:35 pm at 1:35 pm |
  6. Michael "C" Lorton, Virginia

    There is no accountability or transparency when it comes to government spending--that the government's job--spend--and the taxpayers job is to pay. Another commission to hold hearings on waste fraud and abuse of government spending--and what does the government do when someone reports waste, fraud and abuse--–they fire the individual making the claim-which proves no good deed goes unpunished.--this is a joke.

    February 2, 2009 01:36 pm at 1:36 pm |
  7. Taa Taa

    Someone needs to go to jail.. I am so tired of hearing about how badly the Bush Administration handled things, put them in jail. Start with the leader.....

    February 2, 2009 01:37 pm at 1:37 pm |
  8. EBC, MD

    THANK you Sen. Webb. Please CLEAN HOUSE and put these wasted abusers out of a job!!

    We have paid MORE THAN ENOUGH in Iraq, it's time to clean house big time.

    February 2, 2009 01:38 pm at 1:38 pm |
  9. PATC

    Can I sit on the commission. No wait I pay taxes so the Democrats will never hire me.

    February 2, 2009 01:39 pm at 1:39 pm |
  10. Gary of El Centro, Ca

    The entire Iraq War was based on a fraud.......no surprise to me that many, if not all, the "no bid" contractors friendly to the Bush/Cheney Administration are ripping off the Iraq government, the U.S. government, and anybody else they can get their hands on.......

    February 2, 2009 01:41 pm at 1:41 pm |
  11. greed is not good

    Get em Jim! Start an investigation and prosecute anyone or companies that exploited the taxpayers.

    February 2, 2009 01:46 pm at 1:46 pm |
  12. Jeff Spangler, Arlington, VA

    So presumably the waste, fraud and abuse continues in Afghanistan. What will be done to stop it other than fire Blackwater? Where's MoveOn.org when we need themcalling for a pullout of a war that's unwinnable?

    February 2, 2009 01:48 pm at 1:48 pm |
  13. ConsiderThis, FL

    The confidence of the American people will not be restored until America's own evildoers are brought to justice. Just who are these people? All those who have broken our laws, stolen the American taxpayers' money and abused their power. If the most visible people in business and government are seen getting away with breaking the law and stealing taxpayers' money, what do you think the rest of the American people are going to think and do? That's right. Figure out ways to steal money and try to get away with breaking the law. We have reached a frightening level of lawlessness in our country and that surely is the begining of the demise of our society. Sadly, life in America has changed forever and not for the better for most of us; only those who raped and pillaged our economy and and treasury over the past 8 years. Start by putting Karl Rove in jail for contempt of Congress.

    February 2, 2009 01:49 pm at 1:49 pm |
  14. dittohead with forty names

    Wow my favorite morning moderator is back censoring and blackballing every post I make.Thank God for other blog spots like the Huffington post.

    February 2, 2009 01:51 pm at 1:51 pm |
  15. Mickie

    Guess what? The American people knew this long before a commission was empaneled. And I don't believe anybody will be forced to take responsibility or pay any consequences for their part in it because that's the way it has always been.

    February 2, 2009 01:56 pm at 1:56 pm |
  16. chuck

    "No accountability" is the federal governments middle name. Stop this sham of an investigation and just continue throwing money away to other citizens of the world as usual. No lost monies are ever found before the next large check is ready for fast track delivery to non-American citizens of the world. Can you say Isreal?

    February 2, 2009 01:57 pm at 1:57 pm |
  17. Tom

    I sure it was just a 'mistake'. You know like Daschle and Geitner....

    February 2, 2009 01:59 pm at 1:59 pm |
  18. Mark 31 OH

    it's like finding money in the couch cushions, except we have a HUGE couch!

    February 2, 2009 02:00 pm at 2:00 pm |
  19. elsie

    They have been talking about this for years. That is all they do, talk ,talk,talk and do NOTHING. After KBE electrocuted by some accounts 12-13 soldiers they just gave them another 35 million dollar contract for electrical work. Go back to sleep everyone, nothing to see here.

    February 2, 2009 02:00 pm at 2:00 pm |
  20. proudliberal-independent

    and repubs wonder why the country's broke. they gave themselves tax-cuts, while starting illegal wars, then looted the treasury, to pay for their mistakes and their buddies on wall street and in the banks.

    February 2, 2009 02:00 pm at 2:00 pm |
  21. Kathy

    What about the waste on our own soil??? This is too funny. I don't think our so called leaders know what waste is.

    February 2, 2009 02:02 pm at 2:02 pm |
  22. S Callahan

    Funny you should say that Scott....my first thought was it doesn't take a nummie nut much time to figure out where to start with the list ...Anything that says Cheny on top......get the pencil out and just go down the list making the checks......sounds like a back door way to bring accountabililty and prosecutions.

    February 2, 2009 02:04 pm at 2:04 pm |
  23. Casmir Manyonyi

    Ethical Administration is a key for economic growth in any country in the World. An ethical administration ponder both positive and negative effects before making tough decision which may cause economic break down and a terrible recession since the great depression that our nations around the World face now.

    unethical administration is unaccountable of itself, therefore, not a supplies unaccountable to the citizens. Therefore, the economy can easly fall, wars can easly be waged unreasonably, false decisions can easly be made and finally our reward will be a chaos of recession.

    Let politicians not munipulate our citizens, instead apply their knowledge ethically and professionally work for the people whom they represent.

    February 2, 2009 02:05 pm at 2:05 pm |
  24. sick n tired of CNN moderators

    Waste, fraud and abuse by the Bush administration in Iraq? Wow! What a shocker! Instead of TALKING about holding people accountable how about we actually HOLD PEOPLE ACCOUNTABLE FOR ONCE! Then and only then will we see the supposed "change" we all heard so much about back when all you talking suits were trying to win an election! The time has come to PUT UP OR SHUT UP!!!

    February 2, 2009 02:06 pm at 2:06 pm |
  25. Faith Restored

    Yes lets do talk about the wars going on for the last 6 years and throw that figure of waste and debacle into the overspending pot as well since we all want a stimulus recovery free of "pork" and pet projects.

    February 2, 2009 02:06 pm at 2:06 pm |
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