Thursday, December 08, 2011

Does he want prison time?





"This is the sixth hearing addressing the accountability of tax dollar in war zones," declared US House Rep Jason Chaffetz as he brought to order the hearing into Iraq and Afghanistan this morning. Chaffetz is the Chair of the House Oversight and Government Reform's National Security Subcommittee. Appearing before the Subcommittee was the Defense Dept's Inspector General Gordon S. Heddell, the State Dept's Deputy Inspector General Harold Geisel, the acting inspector general of US AID Michael Carroll, the acting inspector general for the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction Steven J. Trent and the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction Stuart Bowen.
Subcommitee Chair Chaffetz summarized the fraud and abuse problems early on,, "In October, the full committee heard testimony from the Commission on Wartime Contracting about its final report. The Commissioners allege that between $30 and $60 billion dollars had been lost in Iraq and Afghanistan due to waste, fraud and abuse in the contracting process. According to the Commission, this was due to ill conceived projects, poor planning and oversight, poor performance by contractors, criminal behavior and blatant corruption. This is unacceptable. And while some may agree or disagree with our engagements in Iraq and Afghanistan, it is universally unacceptable to waste tax payer money."
Early on, he also noted a serious failure on the part of the White House.
Subcommittee Chair Jason Chaffetz: Before recognizing Ranking Member [John] Tierney, I'd like to note that the Defense Dept, State Dept, USAID and SIGAR will not have IGs in January. In May of this year, I wrote the President asking him to move without delay to appoint replacements. That letter was signed by Senators [Joe] Lieberman, [Susan] Collins, [Claire] McCaskill and [Rob] Portman, as well as [House Oversight Committee] Chairman [Darrell] Issa and Ranking Member [Elijah] Cummings and Ranking Member Tierney. I'd like to place a copy of htis record into the record. Without objection, so ordered. To my knowledge, the President has yet to nominate any of these replacements, nor has he responded to this letter. I find that totally unacceptable. This is a massive, massive effort. It's going to take some leadership from the White House. These jobs cannot and will not be done if the president fails to make these appointments. Upon taking office, President Obama promised that his administration would be "the most open and transparent in history." You cannot achieve transparency without inspectors general. Again, I urge President Obama and the Senate to nominate and confirm inspectors general to fill these vacancies and without delay.
The public face of reconstruction in Iraq has been the Speical Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction Stuart Bowen. We'll note the following from his opening statement.
SIGIR Stuart Bowen: First, I am concerned about maintaining SIGIR's ability to get the information we need to complete ongoing audits and investigations and to continue to provide the kind of comprehensive Quarterly Report coverage that the Congress has come to expect from us. The State Department recently instituted a new bureaucratic process, requiring the channeling of information that we request from the Embassy through Foggy Bottom offices. This process inevitably will cause delays, impede our capacity to deal directly with the individuals in Iraq responsible for providing the necessary data, and thus reduce our responsiveness. Symptomatic of this bureaucratic development, one of my investigators, working jointly with the FBI on a criminal case, recently was refused information by the State Department regarding a potential subject (who is a State employee). State directed my investigator to use the "audit process" to obtain this investigative information. Worse, he was challenged as to whether the information, which he had requested in good faith, was even related to "reconstruction funding." This development is just the latest quandary in a predicament-filled year, during which the State Department has repeatedly raised fallacious objections to varying SIGIR requests. I thank the Chairman and Ranking Member -- and the full Committee's leadership -- for their steadfast support of our oversight mission; but these recent issues underscore the reality of the continuing oversight challenges that confront us.
You can't do oversight without the staff. Or, as Stuart Bowen noted during questioning, "You have to be there, to do the work." On that topic, we'll note this exchange from the hearing.
Chair Jason Chaffetz: I'd now like to recognize myself for five minutes and Mr. Heddell, let's start with you. The Defense Contracting Auditing Agency, I know is a little bit outside of your lane but I would appreciate it if you would offer a perspective. The Commission on Wartime Contracting had indicated that there were some 56,000 -- 56,0000 -- contracts behind in terms of auditing these contracts. Why is that? How can that be? How is it that DoD can be so far behind in this? Sorry, your microphone please.
DoD IG Gordon Heddell: Mr. Chairman, my office has actually done a lot of work with respect to DCAA. I would just say generally, first off, that I think that they probably are under-resourced and need help in that respect but historically DCAA has been a very challenged organization. They do a tremendous amount of work for a lot of agencies -- not just inside the Department of Defense but outside the Department of Defense. In the last three to four years, the DCAA has undergone some sweeping changes as a result of some fairly significant criticisms of their leadership, of their processes, and-and not meeting expectations. As a result of that, it has new leadership today with Pat Fizgerald who was the Director of Army Audit. And Pat has taken on a gigantic job. And with the work that my office has done to try to help them identify vulnerabilities in their mangagement, in their processes and how to be an effective organization, for the last two years, their focus has been -- and this is Gordon Heddell talking -- more internal than external. So while, under ideal circumstances, they would have been focusing outward, doing great work, doing lots of audits with very experienced and good leadership, they've had to focus inward to correct management deficiencies and vulnerabilities. I think that's partially a result of this backlog in audits, not entirely.
Chair Jason Chaffetz: And-and my understanding is we've been participating in a lot of wars and spending a lot of money and a lot of resources, as that expenditure has gone up, help me understand what's happening with the actual auditors themselves because you have been appropriated more money.
DoD IG Gordon Heddell: Absoultely. In fact, I've been a very fortunate organization. In the last three or four years, the DoD Office of Inspector General has been plussed up some $87 million, Mr. Chairman. I doubt that any other IG can say that, so I'm very fortunate. The Congress has been very supportive of me. And for that matter, so has the Department of Defense.
Chair Jason Chaffetz: But have you been spending that money?
DoD IG Gordon Heddell: No. The problem there is that the budget, the $87 million in plus ups that I have received have not been annualized. And what that means is that although I'm very fortunate to get these plus ups, I'm not able to use that money to hire permanent staff. So I can hire contractors, I can -- I can do other things with that money but I cannot, because it's not being annualized by the Department, I cannot run the risk of hiring people and then having to RIFF them [lay them off] the following year for fear that I don't have enough money in my budget to pay them. It's a problem.
Chair Jason Chaffetz: Of that $87 million that you've gotten, how much did you actually spend?
DoD IG Gordon Heddell: Well we have spent almost all of it because --
Chair Jason Chaffetz: But you're hiring outside contractors to do --
DoD IG Gordon Heddell: Yes, sir. We're hiring outside contractors. We're creatively doing work that is positive and meets the needs of both the Congress and the Department and the American people. But, for instance, you know one of the -- in the early 2000s, there's two things that happened that have come to haunt us today. One is that while we sent our military forces into southeast Asia to fight two wars, there was a mistaken belief by many of the civilian agencies that they could fight those two wars in the continental United States, my own organization being one of those. And it wasn't until three of four years ago that we came to the realization you cannot do that, that you must be present, and you have to have the people in place, you have to have the footprint. The second thing that happened is that the Department of Defense's budget doubled to about $650 billion dollars. And at the same time, the contract -- Aquistion and Contract Management Workforce, in fact, was reduced in size meaning that we lacked thousands and thousands of needed contracting specialists that are not there to oversight these contracts, that are not there to raise their hand and say 'stop the assembly line.' We're spending money that we're not watching. We're not surveillling it. So those are the two major issues.
Subcommittee Chair Jason Chaffetz: Well thank you, I appreciate that. I think this highlights a mulit-billion dollar problem and challenge that we certainly need to address and fix because I think there is a definite need that is pervasive in the Congress -- both in the House and the Senate -- to make sure that these types of functions are in place. But the way that the money is appropriated is obviously falling short and failing.
Now we're going to fall back to the December 1st snapshot to note the November 30th hearing of the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on the Middle East and South Asia hearing:
Ranking Member Gary Ackerman: He [Bowen] has testified before other bodies of Congress, he has released written quarterly reports, as well as specific audits and the message is the same: The program for which the Department of State officially took responsibility on October 1st is nearly a text book case of government procurement -- in this case, foreign assistance -- doesn't buy what we think we're paying for, what we want and why more money will only make the problem worse. Failed procurement is not a problem unique to the State Department. And when it comes to frittering away millions, Foggy Bottom is a rank amateur compared to the Department of Defense. As our colleagues on the Armed Services committees have learned, the best of projects with the most desirable of purposes can go horribly, horribly off-track; and the hardest thing it seems that any bureaucracy can do is pull the plug on a failed initiative. How do we know the Police Development Program is going off-track? Very simple things demonstrate a strong likelihood of waste and mismanagement. Number one, does the government of Iraq -- whose personnel we intend to train -- support the program? Interviews with senior Iraqi officials by the Special Inspector General show utter disdain for the program. When the Iraqis suggest that we take our money and do things instead that are good for the United States, I think that might be a clue.
Ackerman went on to note how "the program's objectives remain a mushy bowl of vague platitudes" and how it had "no comprehensive and detailed plan for execution, there is no current assessment of Iraqi police force capability and, perhaps most tellingly, there are no outcome-based metrics. This is a flashing-red warning light."
We dropped back because this issue was also raised in today's hearing.
US House Rep Raul Labrador: Mr. Bowen, right now the police development program is the administration's largest foreign aid project for Iraq going forward. And there's some evidence that the Iraqis don't even want this program. So have you or your staff asked the Iraqi police forces if they need the $500 million a year program that the Obama administration is planning to spend on the police development program?
SIGIR Stuart Bowen: Yes, Mr. Labrador, we have and we reported on that in our last quarterly report noting that the senior official at the Ministry of the Interior, Senior Deputy Minister al-Assadi said "he didn't see any real benefit from the police development program." I addressed that with him when I was in Iraq a couple of weeks ago and I asked him, "Did you mean what you said?" And his response was, "Well we welcome any support that the American government will provide us; however, my statements as quoted in your recent quarterly are still posted on my website."
US House Rep Raul Labrador: So why is the administration still spending $500 million a year to provide this program?
SIGIR Stuart Bowen: There's a beliff that security continues to be a challenge in Iraq, a well founded belief, I might add, given the events of this week. Killings of pilgrims again, on the way to Najaf, on the eve of Ashura. The focus though on trying to address those problems has been a widely scattered, high level training program involving about 150 police trainers who, as we've seen again this week, are going to have a very difficult time moving about the country.
US House Rep Raul Labrador: So what other problems have you found with the police development program, if any?
SIGIR Stuart Bowen: Several. Well, Mr. Labrador, we pointed out in our audit that, one Iraqi buy-in, something that the Congress requires from Iraq, by law, that is a contribution of 50% to such programs,has not been secured -- in writing, in fact, or by any other means. That's of great concern. Especially for a Ministry that has a budget of over $6 billion, a government that just approved, notionally, a hundred billion dollar budget for next year. It's not Afghanistan. This is a country that has signficant wealth, should be able to contribute but has not been forced to do so, in a program as crucial as this.
US House Rep Raul Labrador: I know I've run out of time but, Mr. Geisel, do you have any comments on this?
Deputy Inspector General for US State Dept Harold Geisel: Well, of course, first of all, I'm not going to second guess my friend and colleague on what his people found. And, of course, the people you need to bring up here are the people from the State Department to comment on what he found. I do -- I saw that the Department published a document -- a 21-page document that includes goals and measures of performance for the police development program but it's my friend's baby, not mine.
After that bit of hot potato, the next big issue was returning to the lack of nominees to fill the soon to be vacant oversight roles.
US House Rep Raul Labrador: One of the things that's most frustrating to me as a freshman in Congress is that there are some things that both sides agree on that we need to be working on and yet we're not doing them. I look at the Oversight Committee, here, I don't think there's a lot of difference. There might be some small differences between the two sides, but it seems like we can identify some things like the $500 million that we're going to spend on the Iraq police force that they don't even want, that we should be finding things in common that we could be saving on. I want -- if we could put on that transparency here on President Obama. And I'm not saying this, I'm not using this to embarrass anybody, but President Obama has said on his website that he's committed to making his administration the most open and transparent in history. He wants a window for all Americans into the business of government. And that's something that I want. I actually agree with him on this issue. Yet this panel is representing the IG offices principally responsible for overseeing tax payer money in Iraq and Afghanistan and, as of January 4th of next year, four of the five offices will not have an IG. I'm concerned about that. I want everybody to comment, do you know whether the President has nominated anyone to fill these vacancies? If so, who has been nominated? Have you made any recommendations? And do you think the absence of permanent IGs will actually harm our efforts in oversight? And anyone can take this question.
DoD IG Gordon Heddell: I-I certainly would like to comment. Number one, I don't know the names, Congressman Labradour, of anyone who might have been nominated or who is being considered to be nominated. Number two, I can tell you that the confirmation -- the nomination and confirmation process that we have is cumbersome and slow and it has an adverse impact on the leadership of these organizations. Number three, when I took over as the acting inspector general in July of 2008, the DoD IG had -- at the very top -- been vacant for so many years -- over the past 10, 12 years, you can't imagine. And so to run an organization using an acting inspector general as the leader is foolhardy. You can do it for a few months, but you cannot succeed over years and decades and that is what has happened.
US House Rep Raul Labrador: Does anybody know why that has happened? Is there any reason why? It seems like both sides would agree that we need a robust IG in all of these agencies. Does anybody have any comments on that? Mr. Carroll?
US AID acting IG Michael Carroll: I can't comment on what the White House is doing but I just want to assure you on behalf of the USAID IG that one of the great things about working for Don Gambatesa, it was truly a partnership between him and I, so as I moved into the acting role, other than the fact that it's a bit of a work load issue for me, the work goes on and the leadership philosophy continues and so I just want to assure the Subcommittee that-that there'll be no-no degredation in our effectiveness or what our work is going to be for as long as it takes the President to make a decision on the IG job.

RECOMMENDED: "Iraq snapshot"
"'End of what?' asks Moqtada"
"Camp Ashraf and other issues"
"Assault on transparency (Ava)"
"Good news"
"5 men, 1 woman"
"Obama refuses to name nominees"
"So much for the new era of transparency"
"What damn soap operas?"
"Fire the Roots"
"Body of Proof"
"I am not that forgetful"
"The press reluctance"
"Electing the other party"

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