Senators hail resignation of Afghanistan inspector general

Four senators on Monday hailed the resignation of the Obama administration’s watchdog over corruption in Afghanistan.

The three Republicans and one Democrat had urged the removal of Arnold Fields as Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR), saying he was not up to the job.

Fields, a retired Marine Corps major general, had been sharply criticized by Congress and government oversight groups in Washington for much of his tenure, which started in June 2008.

Leading that criticism on Capitol Hill were Sens. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.), Tom Coburn (R-Okla.), Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa). The Project on Government Oversight (POGO) also had pushed for Fields’s removal.

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“With billions of dollars being spent in Afghanistan, our country must have top-notch leadership at the agency responsible for rooting out the waste and fraud that can jeopardize our efforts,” McCaskill said in a statement. “Mr. Fields simply was not the right person for this very difficult job.”

Collins said: “It has been clear for many months that this important mission is not being served effectively. … It is now critical that the administration appoint a leader who will provide aggressive and thorough oversight of the billions of dollars spent on reconstruction in Afghanistan.”

The senators highlighted as evidence of their claims three September 2010 Council of Inspectors General on Integrity and Efficiency (CIGIE) reviews of SIGAR.

Those studies uncovered a list of problems with the agency’s oversight of Afghanistan, including the lack of a quality strategic plan for audits and investigations.

The senators also said Fields showed “questionable judgment” when he went forward with a no-bid contract with Joseph Schmitz, a former Pentagon inspector general, to be a SIGAR consultant. Schmitz left the Pentagon under a cloud of allegations that he interfered in probes and misled lawmakers.

For its part, POGO noted in a September 2010 statement that a panel of inspectors general had looked into those allegations and “found he had not violated ‘any law, rule or regulation’ or engaged in ‘gross mismanagement, gross waste of funds or abuse of authority in connection with any of the matters under review.' "

While the senators had long questioned his qualifications and performance, the White House praised his tenure.

“Under General Fields's tenure, SIGAR produced numerous critical reports that have improved reconstruction efforts and helped ensure that U.S.-funded programs are achieving their objectives,” the White House said in a statement. “General Fields's hard work and steadfast determination have established SIGAR as a critical oversight agency.”

In a statement, the White House said the nation owes Fields “a debt of gratitude for his courage, leadership and selfless service to our nation.”