Time to Account for the Billions Spent in Iraq

It is long past time for Congress to convene a modern-day Truman Commission so that we can aggressively reign in the waste and corruption that are bogging down the American reconstruction effort in Iraq.

I first called for the creation of such a body in May of 2005. It was obvious then, as it is now, that the substantial failures of our own contractors were subverting America's efforts abroad. Consider what we have learned in recent years:
In early 2005, a report issued by the Special Inspector General for the Iraqi Reconstruction found that $9 billion spent on reconstruction work was unaccounted for.

For months before this, accusations of price gouging by Halliburton had been gaining momentum, as the public had gradually become aware that the White House-connected corporation had been overcharging the U.S. Army for gasoline in order to inflate its profits by millions of dollars. By May of 2005, new reports revealed that yet another $100 million earmarked between 2003 and 2004 for small building projects throughout Iraq was completely unaccounted for, much of it likely lost to fraud.

More than one year later, the story is no different. A September 27th article in the Washington Post found that $75 million spent on a project to build the largest police academy in Iraq had gone to waste. The company contracted to do the work had a record of failure, and had constructed an academy so shoddily built that broken pipes leaked feces onto students trying to learn.

And today, a report published in the New York Times noted that a new Inspector General (IG) report details how overhead costs associated with reconstruction efforts have often consumed between 20 and 55 percent of the budgets allotted for specific tasks. The article stated that in many cases, bureaucratic bungling was the cause, as "the United States ordered the contractors and their equipment to Iraq and then let them sit idle for months at a time."

It is not just a moral imperative for the United States to rebuild Iraqi infrastructure and institutions destroyed and looted during and after the war. It is also a political and military necessity to do so. Without rebuilding the country, poverty, desperation, and anger will continue to grow among an increasingly destitute local population. Iraqi security forces will remain helpless to enforce the rule of law. The country will become less stable, and our troops will be ever less secure.

Day after day, this Administration and this Republican Majority tell the American people that critics of the war endanger our security and undermine our chances for success in Iraq. But for four years, those same Republicans have refused to seriously examine how our money is being spent there.

All the while, massive, multi-billion-dollar no-bid contracts have been handed out to corporations with connections to the heights of power. Not surprisingly, their performance has been lacking. In just the most recent example, today's article in the Times reveals that, "The highest proportion of overhead was incurred in oil-facility contracts won by KBR Inc., the Halliburton subsidiary formerly known as Kellogg Brown and Root, which has frequently been challenged by critics in Congress and elsewhere."

By willfully failing to exercise any oversight over reconstruction efforts in Iraq, this Republican Congress has endangered the lives of Iraqi civilians, put our troops at risk, and made it far less likely that Iraq will become a stable state in the near future.

Harry Truman's commission was created at a time when the Congressional Leadership put the good of the country ahead of the good of any one party. Truman was a Democrat, and he thoroughly investigated a Democratic administration to ensure that our resources were being spent as efficiently as possible. In the process, he saved lives.

Republicans have never felt they owed it to our troops or the Iraqi people to do the same. Perhaps a new set of leaders in Washington will heed the call of a different set of principals.

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