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. joethedumber


    February 2, 2009 02:58 pm at 2:58 pm |
  2. Louis

    ***More theft from hard-working taxpayers–despicable.

    February 2, 2009 03:01 pm at 3:01 pm |
  3. mike

    While we are at it, lets set up a 'commission' to investigate how much of the 850 billion stimulus, (hand-out) is actually going towards stimulating the economy. Cut the pork Congress. Start investigating yourselves.

    February 2, 2009 03:08 pm at 3:08 pm |
  4. Simpliticus

    The revolving door of illicit and corrupt deceit! No bid contracts given to Republican hacks that regenerate further GOP support for reelection. Is it any surprise of the failings of construction and contractual arrangements within war-torn Iraq. It was the money all the time that was more important than reconstruction. The arrangement allowed for money to be returned to the GOP efforts to get their people reelected for further no bid contracts and so forth. Forget about quality here as the money was more important than the construction which aided and abet the fraud and waste. It was about the money!

    February 2, 2009 03:09 pm at 3:09 pm |
  5. G from RTP

    THIS is where the biggest amount of waste fraud and looting of the treasury went to . Why has no one been prosecuted for shipping pallets of shrink wrapped cash to Iraq.

    February 2, 2009 03:11 pm at 3:11 pm |
  6. T

    where are all the usual GOP mouthpieces on this one (you know who you are)? Crickets........How much fraud and waste has there been in this no bid contract war that you have been the cheerleaders for? How about the pallets (literally) of money that vanished? Where was and is the outrage about that?

    February 2, 2009 03:15 pm at 3:15 pm |
  7. Joe Minnesota

    Newsflash Mr Democrat – these wars have been going on for a while, so how come you and your overpaid compatriots have decided today that by gum we're going to have accountability?

    What did you do about accountability during the last two years of Democratic majority controls?

    February 2, 2009 03:17 pm at 3:17 pm |
  8. steve r.

    A strong and clear message needs to be sent to these corrupt individuals that this is wrong and the American tax payers are outragged. Prosecute to the fullest extent and send these people away. If not, this will be a constant problem as long as we live. The Bush/Cheney invation of Iraq with no sign of (WMD) is where we should start. Lets include the wallstreet thieves in the investigation also. The GOP is complaining about 200 million here or 350 million here in the stimulus package, when their corrupt president started a unwanted war that has put our great Country in a depression. GO FIGURE!!!

    February 2, 2009 03:19 pm at 3:19 pm |
  9. LIP

    Today is an historic day. Iraq had its second free election, one carried out so well, that the US could learn from it. Thank you George W. Bush for bringing them freedom. Iran and Syria are worried about democracy now that it has its roots right next door.
    Meanwhile, fraud and waste in the military probably started back before the Civil War and has continued unabatted ever since. If the Democrats want to hold Bush up to the microscope, then we can go back to Kennedy and Johnson during the Vietnam War and Clinton's war in the Balkans and all the other dirty little wars that have been fought. Whats fair is fair...lets not pretend that we are hollier than thou Senator Webb.

    February 2, 2009 03:21 pm at 3:21 pm |
  10. Mari

    THE TRUTH, will eventually hit the far-right-Bushies in the face!

    First, the war in Iraq did not have to happen!

    Then we spent, BILLIONS...... a month, each and every month that we do not have! TRIPLING our National debt.

    And now.. the TRUTH........ that Bush & Co., allowed corruption, misappropriation of fund, etc., to be rampant in Iraq!


    February 2, 2009 03:22 pm at 3:22 pm |
  11. Beverly in NC


    February 2, 2009 03:23 pm at 3:23 pm |
  12. It is getting hotter and better

    @ obama all the way

    Well, it looks like we gave them billions of dollars every year, and the only thing we got back is a SHOE IN THE FACE...

    February 2, 2009 03:28 pm at 3:28 pm |
  13. Caligirl

    Well, it's about time that somebody did something about this!!!!

    February 2, 2009 03:37 pm at 3:37 pm |
  14. U.S. Common Sense

    How about the fraud and waste within our own Congress? Do the people get a commission to blast Congress itself?

    February 2, 2009 03:37 pm at 3:37 pm |
  15. AJ

    Jeez, now there's a surprise...

    February 2, 2009 03:41 pm at 3:41 pm |
  16. FreeNLovIt

    It's about time!!! The bar is so high for us little people and so low for crooks! I heard on the radio that the government accidentally wired in 150k into the bank accounts of a couple. They cashed it and moved to FL. They were found and they were JAILED! If this is the bar, this should apply to everyone!!

    February 2, 2009 03:51 pm at 3:51 pm |
  17. D-MI

    Joe, MN:

    What did they do? How about banging their heads against a brick wall of an obstructionist administration who wouldn't give them numbers, memos, details or anything else?

    Jeez you people are dense...

    February 2, 2009 03:51 pm at 3:51 pm |
  18. Nicki

    Americans should be outraged at our Military and Government.
    This is our money and they have no idea where it went.

    When we talk about government spending, lets not forget the billions of dollars that have simply gone missing in Iraq!

    Where is the outrage?

    February 2, 2009 03:54 pm at 3:54 pm |
  19. Angie in Pa

    I Just cannot get over the fact of OUR TAX DOLLARS Wasted wasted away in that War in Iraq, so our Money helped kill 1000s Our money has helped torture and for what for what I ask what in the hell has that war in Iraq done for America and Dont give me that Sh–t about it kept us safe, even a 5 year old Knows IRAQ HAD NOTHING TO DO WITH 911! OR BIN LADEN! the only thing I see it has done is NEARLY BANKRUPTED US NOW OUR NEW PRESIDENT WANTS TO INVEST MONEY IN AMERICA AND THE CITIZENS NOT IN IRAQ BUT RIGHT HERE, AND THE GOP IS STANDING IN THE WAY I SAY PEOPLE WISE UP AND WISE UP NOW AND GET THE GREEDY WE BANKRUPTED AMERICA GOP OUT IN 2010 THIS IS UNBELIVEABLE!

    February 2, 2009 03:55 pm at 3:55 pm |
  20. worriedmom

    Looks like the Liberals found a page to comment on, they saw the word War and decided to bash anyone who is not on their page of thinking. People in DC need to clean their own houses first before trying to clean others! That goes for Republicans and Democrats and the Libs who claim innocent and victimization in all.

    February 2, 2009 03:55 pm at 3:55 pm |
  21. Caligirl

    PEACE ON EARTH February 2nd, 2009 2:17 pm ET

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

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



    As an Ex-bartender and a current Pot-smoker with 2, yes that's right, 2 Master degrees and a great annual salary, I say AMEN!!!!

    Peace on Earth, you are absolutely right.

    February 2, 2009 04:05 pm at 4:05 pm |
  22. Lisa

    To those of you who are saying that the Iraq war did not have to happen. I wish you would take into account that, regardless of what happens at the top of the food chain, there were people involved. My husband served in Iraq for a year (only a few monts after we were married) and it was an experience that forever changed him.....changed us. When you sit on here in the safety of your homes or offices (because of the freedom that our soliders protect) and go on and on about how we went to war for no reason, you're saying my husband's sacrifice (and mine) was worth nothing.

    Show some respect to our brave military men and women, please!

    February 2, 2009 04:08 pm at 4:08 pm |
  23. WIlly Brown

    Jim Webb: The disgruntled republican who could not hack it as the Secretary of The Navy.

    February 2, 2009 04:08 pm at 4:08 pm |
  24. mike,texas

    People going to prison is a must.Accountability will define us.

    February 2, 2009 04:08 pm at 4:08 pm |
  25. Carrie

    I say we BRING THE TROOPS HOME - and sent all the liberals back out in their place!!! We could stand to shut up a few left-wingers! Liberals are the pompous, over-opinionated, under-educated people who complain about everything involving Iraq - but they're too lazy to actually join the military and put their money where their mouth is! Until you actually put your life on the line - SHUT UP and enjoy the security and freedom that our soldiers have provided for you!!!

    February 2, 2009 04:11 pm at 4:11 pm |
1 2 3 4 5