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. facts are facts

    What a crock all this is since the entire war was started and carried out to line the pockets of oil, munitions and construction companies who of course all had subsidiaries like Black Water.

    The Republican Party is affiliated and dependent upon thise corporations for their existence and the war was just pay back for past favors and incentives for future monetary support.

    February 2, 2009 02:06 pm at 2:06 pm |
  2. Maurice from Ontario

    It's about time we get some investigation of all the fraudulent activity that was unmentioned (unmentionable) while the invasion into Iraq was taking place. I applaud the actions of Sen. McCaskill and Sen. Webb and the other members of the CWC.

    February 2, 2009 02:08 pm at 2:08 pm |
  3. stag

    Waste, fraud, abuse....sounds like the US congress.

    February 2, 2009 02:12 pm at 2:12 pm |
  4. person

    First of all, why did we let Bush leave office without getting impeached. DEMS needs some balls.

    February 2, 2009 02:13 pm at 2:13 pm |
  5. David

    We'll see how far this goes. There are the elites that backed a lot of this and got rich (Bilderbergs, Trilaterals like Kissinger and Geithner). So we shall see if they get caught. Doubt it.

    February 2, 2009 02:13 pm at 2:13 pm |
  6. LAW

    Deadeye Dick Cheney- front and center. the biggest lobbyist (un registered) on the planet! Halliburton/KBR didn't need a lobbyist, they had a Vice President of the United States steering everything their way. Lack of Planning? Well, let's thank Rummy " we go to war with the Army we have" Rumsfeld.

    February 2, 2009 02:13 pm at 2:13 pm |
  7. vic

    Jim Webb is an astounding man – he's served and he knows whats going on.
    I hope he outs every single mismanagement of war money and put an end to the corruption.

    February 2, 2009 02:15 pm at 2:15 pm |

    IF ONLY......someone could do something about OUR OWN WAR CRIMINALS.

    But alas, the world would rather focus on a dude smoking a bong.



    February 2, 2009 02:17 pm at 2:17 pm |
  9. williefloyd

    There is no one in Washington more prepared to do this investigation than Sen. Webb. He is both intelligent and trustworthy-I believe we can depend on his total honesty when reporting his findings. I was somewhat disappointed Pres. Obama did not choose to use him in a major position.

    February 2, 2009 02:18 pm at 2:18 pm |
  10. Gerry in Va. for Obama.

    Senator Webb. First let me thank you for your service to our country both militarally and as a politician. I believe you to be one of the more honest people in our senate. Since you have been on both sides of the military spending fence I know you will be able to define what is fraud and what is legitimate military spending. I HOPE you are courageous enough to hold the (fraud spending) companys feet to the fire and make them repay ANY and ALL moneys obtained illegally. We have very few politicians who are willing to demand repayment from a military bidder who has overstepped their authority . Perhaps IF a few of these contractors who work on Government jobs had to repay their dishonest earnings and have a penalty of (no bid) privilages for a few years, they would at least slow their cheating down. I don't believe we will EVER get rid of the cheaters and thieves in the government but slowing them down for awhile would be some help.. Having worked for several military contractors at Ft Irwin California for almost 20 years, I can say I have seen fraud, waste and abuse of the taxpayers money. I do hope YOU will be the one to put the abusers out of business, for a few years, if not forever.

    February 2, 2009 02:18 pm at 2:18 pm |
  11. i fear for your life, senator!

    agents of mosad and AIPAC have demonstrated time and again

    they will stop at nothing

    to stop you from stopping their corrupt and inhumane ways.

    and they are everywhere, and

    they got dirt under everyone, including

    you and me.

    February 2, 2009 02:19 pm at 2:19 pm |
  12. sandee in Portland

    Aah, just what we need right now. Instead of appointing a commission to determine accountability for the Iraq failure, why aren't they appointing a commission to determine accountability for the wall streeters and financial institutions. They're getting involved in the private sector anyway, so why not focus on . Actually, to heck with any commission involving accountability. Say focused on getting our economy back to normal.

    February 2, 2009 02:20 pm at 2:20 pm |
  13. Matt

    Orange jumpsuits are going to be "in" this year.

    February 2, 2009 02:22 pm at 2:22 pm |
  14. Bob in Pa

    Let’s try looking at home first. After all, what we do with our money in Iraq, is probably just a reflection of what we do at home. We are about to have a "Tunnel to Nowhere", replacing our infamous "Bridge to Nowhere" here in Pittsburgh. So a Prison that will never hold prisoners isn't really anything to me. Seen it before, we will see it again and again and again.

    February 2, 2009 02:23 pm at 2:23 pm |
  15. Peter (CA)

    Big surpise!

    A war run by "contractors". No bid contracts to Halliburton and Bechtel.
    Who could have guessed what would come of that?

    Obviously not the dimwits in charge.

    February 2, 2009 02:23 pm at 2:23 pm |
  16. marvinj

    What happened to all of the truck loads of money that was reported on from Iraq and the photos of duece and 1/2 U.S. Military vehicle loaded with this money?

    What has happened to the money that was reported frozen in various banks around the world because of certain ties during the start of the war and after 911?

    Who's following up on these think?

    February 2, 2009 02:29 pm at 2:29 pm |
  17. Lynn

    The GOP is so good at blasting the stimulus plan as "wasteful." Where were they for the past 6 years as this rampant fraud occurred? They are such extreme hypocrites and crybabies, never taking responsibility for anything they have done. Always wrapping themselves in the flag to avoid criticism. Talk about a lack of patriotism. Our troops deserved better.
    Go get 'em, Senator Webb!

    February 2, 2009 02:31 pm at 2:31 pm |
  18. JB

    The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan were financial giveaways – windfalls – for republican friends of the bush/cheney admin. Why aren't republicans outraged over the waste there – yet they gripe about a few million spent on family planning to quell the demands on medicaid? Where's the outrage over the abyssmal treatment and facilities for the troops returning home Please. It's obvious where their priorities lie.

    February 2, 2009 02:34 pm at 2:34 pm |
  19. Sher

    "The report includes multiple examples of waste, including a "skeletal, half-built" shell of a maximum-security prison in Khan Bani Saad..." Well look at that! We ALSO have a place to house these fraudulent crooks! Unfit for use? PERFECT! Let's be sure not to torture them... just throw them in and water-board them along with George & Dick!

    Sherrie, Eugene, Oregon

    February 2, 2009 02:37 pm at 2:37 pm |
  20. Thomas Paine

    These frauds were brought to us by the administration that was going to bring integrity and morality back to the White House.

    February 2, 2009 02:41 pm at 2:41 pm |
  21. obama all the way

    we had NO business invading iraq, let alone being there all these years, we are giving them billions of dollars every YEAR, yet the last administration and all the republicans could not do anything to help America, SHAME ON THEM ALL.

    February 2, 2009 02:41 pm at 2:41 pm |
  22. worriedmom

    Jim Webb is a arrogant, rude individual. He was disrespectful to the President at the time he was elected and I am ashamed to say he represents Virginia. Stop obessing with the past and let's do something now about what is going on with our country! If you want to get involved with the War, then start defending on Afghanastan and try to stop thinking you are going to be a Hero for the Liberals! All you will do is deflate our brave men and women who have fought for us!
    by the Way i wrote him to ask him to Vote No on the Stimulus bill with the way it is currently and do you know never received a word from him and it was on the news the First Bail out that people could not get thru to him! Like i said he is a joke and I hope his term is short!!!

    February 2, 2009 02:45 pm at 2:45 pm |
  23. fearful for my country

    This is the biggest "duh" of the Century. Why are we spending US money in Iraq? I can understand supporting the troops and providing the troops supplies but rebuilding? Where's our oil? WTH are our politicians thinking?

    February 2, 2009 02:48 pm at 2:48 pm |
  24. Matt

    This is more business as usual for our leaders in both parties. Talk is cheap ladies and gentlemen. War profiteering has been in the news since Bush proclaimed "quagmire accomplished." Old news... can we shut up and DO something about? And I'm not talking "Study groups" or "Commissions", it's time for some indictments.

    February 2, 2009 02:51 pm at 2:51 pm |
  25. dallas female

    now let's watch and see if they try bushy and cheney as war criminals and open up another 9/11 investigation.

    only when these happen will the american people gain more trust in this administration.

    February 2, 2009 02:56 pm at 2:56 pm |
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