Panel probes waste and fraud in Iraq and Afghanistan wars

WASHINGTON — Poor planning, weak oversight and greed combined to soak U.S. taxpayers and undermine American forces in Iraq and Afghanistan, government watchdogs tell a new commission examining waste and corruption in wartime contracts.

Since 2003, the Pentagon, State Department and U.S. Agency for International Development have paid contractors more than $100 billion for goods and services to support war operations and rebuilding.

There are 154 open criminal investigations into allegations of bribery, conflicts of interest, defective products, bid rigging, and theft stemming from the wars, according to Thomas Gimble, the Pentagon’s principal deputy inspector general.

The Associated Press obtained the prepared testimony of Gimble and Stuart Bowen, special inspector general for Iraq reconstruction, in advance of today’s first hearing by the Commission on Wartime Contracting.

Congress created the bipartisan panel a year ago over the objections of the Bush White House, which complained the Justice Department might be forced to disclose sensitive information about investigations.

Gimble notes that contracting scandals have gone on since the late 1700s when vendors swindled George Washington’s army.

“Today, instead of empty barrels of meat, contractors produced inadequate or unusable facilities that required extensive rework,” Gimble says. “Like the Continental Forces who encountered fraud, the (Defense Department) also encounters fraud.”

A report from Bowen, “Hard Lessons: The Iraq Reconstruction Experience,” reviews the problems in an effort that has cost the U.S. $51 billion. Before the war, the Bush administration projected $2.4 billion would be needed for reconstruction, he says.

The U.S. government “was neither prepared for nor able to respond quickly to the ever-changing demands” of stabilizing the war-torn country and then rebuilding it, Bowen says. “For the last six years we have been on a steep learning curve.”

Styled after the Truman Committee, which examined World War II spending six decades ago, the eight-member panel has broad authority to examine military support contracts, reconstruction projects and private security companies.

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