Saturday, June 30, 2012

Popular, but in another way





 "First," declared US House Rep Jason Chaffetz  yesterday morning explaining the purpose of the
Committee, "Americans have the right to know that the money Washington takes from them is well spent. And second Americans deserve efficient, effective government that works for them.  Our duty on the Oversight and Government Reform Committee is to protect these rights."

 Chaffetz is the Chair of the House Oversight and Government Reform's Subcommittee on National  Security, Homeland Defense and Foreign Operations which held a hearing on Iraq.

Appearing before the Subcommittee on the first panel were: US State Dept's Patrick Kennedy, Peter Verga and USAID's Mara Rudman.  Panel two was the US Government Accountability Office's Michael Courts, the State Dept's Acting Inspecting General Harold Geisel, DoD's Special Deputy Inspector General for Southwest Asia Mickey McDermott, USAID's Deputy Inspector General Michael Carroll and the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction Stuart Bowen Jr.

Chair Jason Chaffetz: The State Dept has greatly expanded its footprint in Iraq. 
 There are approximately 2,000 direct-hire personnel and 14,000 support contractors 
-- roughly a seven-to-one ratio.  This includes 7,000 private security contractors to 
guard our facilities and move personnel throughout Iraq.  Leading up to the withdrawal, 
the State Dept's mission seemed clear.  Ambassador Patrick Kennedy testified that the diplomatic mission was "designed to maximize influence in key locations."  And later 
said, "State will continue the police development programs moving beyond basic 
policing skills to provide police forces with the capabilities to uphold the rule of law.  
The Office of Security Cooperation will help close gaps in Iraq's security forces 
capabilities through security assistance and cooperation."  This is an unprecedented 
mission for the State Dept. Nonetheless, our diplomatic corps has functioned without
 the protections of  a typical host nation.  It's also carried on without troop support that
 many believed it would have. As a result, the Embassy spends roughly 93% of its budget
 on security alone.  Without a doubt, this is an enormously complex and difficult mission.  Six months into the transition, the Congress must assess whether the administration 
is accomplishing its mission?  While the State Dept has made progress, it appears to be 
facing difficult challenges in a number of areas. The Oversight Committee has offered 
some criticism based on their testimony today.  Including the Government Accountability Office noting that the State and Defense Dept's security capabilities are not finalized.  
The Special Inspector General for Iraqi Reconstruction states that, "Thousands of 
projects completed by the United States and transferred to the government of Iraq 
will not be sustained and thus will fail to meet their intended purposes."  The Defense 
Dept's Inspector General's Office explains that the lack of Status of Forces Agreement 
has impacted land use agreements, force protection, passport visa requirements, air 
and ground movement and our foreign military sales program.  And the US AID Inspector General's office testifies, "According to US AID mission, the security situation has 
hampered its ability to monitor programs. Mission personnel are only occassionaly 
able to travel to the field for site visits."  Embassy personnel have also told Committee 
staff that the United States government has difficulty registering its vehicles with the
 Iraqi government and Iraqis have stood up checkpoints along supply lines.  According 
to one embassy official, the team must dispatch a liason to "have tea and figure out 
how we're going to get our trucks through."  These are just some of the challenges 
the State Dept is facing in Iraq today.  Perhaps as a result of these conditions, Mission 
Iraq appears to be evolving.  In an effort to be more efficient, the State Dept is evaluating 
its footprint, reducing personnel and identifying possible reductions.  This rapid change
 in strategy, however, raises a number of questions. Are we on the right track?  Are we redefining the mission?  What should we expect in the coming months?  And, in hindsight,      was this a well managed withdrawal?

 The first panel was a joke in so many ways.  Someone please convey to the State Dept that they
don't look 'manly' offering football allusions to Iraq.  With all the people -- Iraqis, Americans, etc. -- it's really beyond insensitive for State to show up and try to talk football.  There have been far too many deaths for anyone to see this as a game or match and you'd think the diplomatic arm of the government would grasp that on their own and wouldn't need that pointed out.  In addition to the unneeded sports comparisons and examples, there were also the answers which could be honest only if you agreed to ignore the facts. US House Rep Blake Farenthold became Acting Chair where we're doing our excerpt.

 Acting Chair Blake Farenthold:  I just have one more question so we'll just do a quick
 second round of questions. Ambassador Kennedy, you mentioned the Baghdad police
 college annex facility as one of the facilities.  It's my understanding that the United States' taxpayers have invested more than $100 million in improvements on that site. It was intended to house the police department program -- a multi-billion dollar effort that's 
currently being downsized.  And as a result of the State Dept's failure to secure land use rights the entire facility is being turned over to the Iraqis at no cost.  The GAO reports 
Mission Iraq has land use agreements or leases for only 5 out of all of the sites that it operates. Can you say with confidence that those sites now operating without leases or agreements will not be turned over to Iraq for free as was the case with the police development program?  And what would the cost to the US taxpayer be if they were to 
lose without compensation all of those facilities?

Patrick Kennedy:  Thank you, Mr. Chairman.  First of all, the statement that has been -- 
that you were reading from about we are closing the Baghdad police development center because of a failure to have land use rights is simply factually incorrect.  We have a land 
use agreement for that site. As part of the program -- the police development program -- there are periodic reviews that are underway and my colleagues who do that -- it's not 
part of my general responsibility on the operating side of the house -- engage in reviews
on a six month basis both internally and with the government of Iraq.  It was always our 
plan to make adjustments to the police development program  over time.  But the 
statement that somehow we have wasted or had everything pulled out from under us because of lack of a land use agreement is very simply false. For our other properties
 in Iraq we have -- we have agreements for every single property we have in Iraq except 
for one which is our interim facility in -- in Basra which is simply a reincarnation of a
 former US military there. But even in that regard we have a longterm agreement that 
was signed with the government of Iraq by Ambassador Negroponte in 2005 in which 
we swapped properties with the government of Iraq and they are committed to provide 
us with a ten acre facility in-in Basra of our mutal choosing. And so we are covered, sir. 

 He said it.  Too bad it wasn't accurate or, for that matter, truthful.  We'll jump over to the second

Acting Chair Blake Farenthold:  Mr. Courts, Ambassador Kennedy and I got into a 
discussion about the absence of or presence of land use agreements for the facilities 
we have in Iraq do you have the current status for that information from your latest 
eport as to what facilities we do and do not have land use agreements for?
Michael Courts: What Ambassador Kennedy may have been referring to that for 13 of 
the 14 facilities the Iraqis have acknowledged a presence through diplomatic notes. 
 But there's still only 5 of the 14 for which we actually have explicit title land use 
agreements or leases. 

Acting Chair Blake Farenthold:  Alright so I'm not -- I'm not a diplomat.  So what does
 that mean?  They say, "Oh, you can use it until we change our minds" -- is that 
basically what those are?  Or is there some force of law to those notes?

Michael Courts: Well the notes are definitely not the same thing as having an explicit agreement.  And as a matter of fact, there's already been one case where the Iraqis 
required us to reconfigure, downsize one of our sites.  And that was at one of the 
sites where we did not have a land use agreement and so obviously we're in a much 
more vulnerable position when there's not an explicit agreement.

Acting Chair Blake Farenthold:  Alright, Mr. Carroll, I would also like to follow up a 
question I had on the last panel about the use of Iraqi nationals in overseeing some 
of our investigations of it -- does that?  I mean, what's your opinion that?  Does that 
strike you as a good idea, a bad idea or something we're stuck with because there's 
no alternative? It seems like Americans would be a little more concerned about how 
their tax dollars were spent than the Iraqi nationals who are the receipients of those 
tax dollars.  That's kind of a fox guarding the hen house, it looks like. 

Michael Carroll: [Laughing]  Well I-I personally I think it's a - like-like Ms. Rudman said 
it's an additive sort of step.  We would do the same thing. For example, in some of the 
places where it's absolutely prohibited because of security what we will do is contract 
with a local CPA firm -- primarily out of Egypt -- and do a very comprehensive agreed 
upon procedures document that they will go out and they will take pictures, they will 
ask questions, they will do what we would do if we could get there. So I think that it 
what Mara is talking about as well.  I don't see it as a problem.  In fact, I see it as an 
adjunct to and it's not a replacement for USAID contracting representatives and technical representatives actually getting out and ensuring that the work is actually being done. 
 That's not what these people are doing.  What these people are doing is just going out, 
doing some monitoring and observing.  But it does not replace what the 
responsibilities are for the Americans. 

Acting Chair Blake Farenthold: Alright. Thank you very much.  And I'm not sure if I 
want to address this to Mr. Courts or Mr. Bowen -- whichever one of you seems 
most eager to answer can take this.  I haven't been to Iraq.  My information in the
 field of what it's like on the ground there is based on the things that I've read and 
the reports that I've seen on television.  But a good many of our facilities are in 
metropolitan areas including the capital Baghdad and I'm concerned that we are 
struggling getting food and water to these folks in a safe manner.  I mean, what's 
the procedure?  Is the food delivered?  How -- how is that handled and why is it a 
problem in a metropolitan area? There are hundreds of thousands of people in
 these cities, Iraqi nationals, that need to be fed.  Obviously, it's more complicated 
than just going down to the Safeway but I mean how is that handled?  And why is it 
such a problem?

Stuart Bowen:  The State Dept, as Ambassador Kennedy indicated, continued the LOGCAP contract after the military withdrew in December and thus the process for bringing food
 into the country continued as well and that is via convoys that come up from Kuwait.  
There have been challenges.  That checkpoint has been occasionally closed.  There 
have been security challenges with regards to those convoys and other reasons that 
the shipments have been intermittent and has led to an occasional shortage of certain
 food stuff at the embassies.  [Former US] Ambassador [to Iraq James] Jeffrey emphasized repeatedly this spring his desire to move towards local purchase but that's been slow.

Is it wrong to note that the State Dept's Patrick Kelly was not honest with the Subcommittee or
that he chose to ignore the questions asked?  He wanted to insist (falsely) that there were leases
on all the Iraqi property currently occupied by the US diplomatic mission.  Again, that is not truthful.

In addition, he wanted to insist that turning over a facility the US taxpayer had spent over a million
dollars on was normal and natural.  It was neither.  US taxpayers, if asked, might have said, "Hey,
 turn it over to an Iraqi orphanage or youth project."

Or, noting the huge amount of widows due to  the war, might have said, "Turn it over as a facility for women and their children to live in."  But the same taxpayer that had no vote in whether or not to go to war got no vote in how to spend millions in Iraq..

Patrick Kennedy declared, "It was always our plan to make adjustments to the police development program over time."

That actually may be true.  (Or it may be another lie.)  But the fact is, the US State Dept refused to share the plan with Congress or the office of the Special Inspector for General Reconstruction in Iraq.  Kennedy might hope we forget that -- and certainly many in the press will rush  to assist him -- but those of us present at the hearings held in the last months of 2011 remember the State Dept refusing to answer questions.

The State Dept is not an fiefdom, though Patrick Kennedy appears to believe it is.  They are
answerable to Congress.  It's a real shame that all these issues were not nailed down in real time.

 If  you're confused or playing stupid, the reason it was not nailed down is many Democrats agreed to give the White House a blank check and they weren't even concerned with what figure might be written in on that blank check.  That's not just me.  Let's note Stuart Bowen's testimony to the Subcommittee yesterday about the State Dept's refusal to provide concrete answers:

Stuart Bowen:  I testified before this subcommittee in November 2011 about our 
concerns regarding the Department of State's planned multi-year, multi-billion-dollar 
Police Development Program [PDP].  I raised two overarching issues that threatened
 the PDP's success.  First, the Defense Department had not adequately assessed the 
impact of its own six-year police training efforts, and thus a key benchmark for 
future planning was missing.  And second, State had not sufficiently planned for the 
program, either on the policy or logistical fronts.  It is now beyond dispute that the 
PDP planning process was insufficient.  It should have produced specific program 
goals, a time frame for accomplishing those goals, the anticipated total cost for the 
program, the expected scope of required resources, and a method for measuring
 progress.  The process fell short in each of these areas.  Further, to succeed, the 
PDP required close collaboration and support from the Government of Iraq.  But
the GOI's support has been weak, at best. 

 That's why we have the problem we do now.  In other comments? Tim Arango of the New York Times   was attacked by the US State Dept for his writing.  His writing ( "U.S. May Scrap Costly Efforts to Train Iraqi Police") was about what the State Dept was discussing.

He did not attempt to predict what would happen or how it would play out.  We've already noted
Tim was correct and accurate in his reporting.  We'll note that his reporting only stands stronger
after the Thursday hearing.  If Victoria Nuland had any class or character, she'd apologize publicly
to Tim Arango for the attack she launched on him.
 Before we go further, we should fall back to the last hearing Jason Chaffetz chaired that we
covered.  That's December 7, 2011 and from that coverage, we'll note this:

 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.
 Why is Geisel, who was at that hearing in December, billed as an "acting" anything?  Is the White
House unable or just unwilling to fill these slots?

 For many of us, the inaction reminds us that Barack Obama, as a member of the Senate Foreign
Relations Committee was over Afghanistan in terms of subcommittees but never called a hearing
on the topic.  Someone appears to love credits in the yearbook, they just don't want to work for them.

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