Sen. McCaskill crafting legislation to crack down on waste in war zones

Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) announced Wednesday she is helping craft legislation intended to prevent the shoddy contracting practices that allowed billions of dollars to be wasted in Iraq and Afghanistan.

McCaskill, chairwoman of the Senate Armed Services Readiness and Management Support subcommittee, said she is teaming up with Sen. Jim Webb (D-Va.) and others to develop “comprehensive legislation” for improving wartime contracting.

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McCaskill and Webb have worked together on the issue before, pushing the 2008 legislation that created the Commission on Wartime Contracting. That panel recently issued a final report that concluded between $31 billion and $60 billion spent so far on private contractors in Iraq and Afghanistan has been lost to waste and fraud.

The senators plan to introduce their bill “later this year,” McCaskill said during a subcommittee hearing.

A measure similar to McCaskill-Webb has already been introduced in the lower chamber. Rep. John Tierney (D-Mass.), ranking member of the House Oversight and Government Reform subcommittee on National Security, Homeland Defense and Foreign Operations, introduced a contracting bill in late August.

“It is clear that we need to have systems in place to audit and monitor how U.S. taxpayer dollars are being spent as soon as the U.S. puts troops on the ground and to enhance prospects for the future safety of our troops,” Tierney said then. “The kind of waste we have witnessed in Iraq and Afghanistan cannot be repeated.” 

The Tierney bill would create “a permanent inspector general for contingency operations.”

The Senate measure would be added to an already crowded legislative docket, and it’s unclear how long it might take for the chamber to act on it.

McCaskill announced the legislation during a subcommittee hearing where senators and members of the wartime contracting panel had strong words for Pentagon officials. 

“We must not haphazardly, obliviously, or hastily contract. Doing so can result in taxpayer money ending up in the hands of our enemies,” Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.) said. “We need to make it easier for U.S. contracting officials to void contracts with contractors who funnel taxpayer resources to enemies of the United States.”

Ayotte called for sweeping changes to how DoD and other security agencies look at contracting in war zones.

“Contracting must be thoroughly integrated into all intelligence, planning, and operations.  Contingency contracting must not be viewed as a separate logistical activity,” Ayotte said. “As General Petraeus said, contingency contracting is fundamentally ‘commander’s business.’ While Gen. Petraeus probably had [coalition forces in Afghanistan’s] commanders in mind, I would include the leadership of the Pentagon, State Department, and USAID in that statement as well.”

McCaskill raised concerns about projects that have been approved by Pentagon officials to build facilities that the Afghanistan government cannot afford.

She highlighted a power plant in Afghanistan, telling Acting Pentagon acquisition czar Frank Kendall and the Joint Staff’s Director of Logistics Lt. Gen. Brooks Bash that if she “asked anyone on the ground there” if that kind of facility could be sustained by Afghanistan’s economy, “they’d say ‘No, that can’t be sustained.’” 

Dov Zakheim, a wartime contracting commissioner and a former Pentagon comptroller, pointed to the Afghanistan National Security Force (ANSF) as another project on which Washington has over shot.

“We’ve spent $11 billion just recently on the ANSF when Afghanistan’s [gross domestic product] is only $16 billion,” Zakheim said.

U.S. officials in Iraq and Afghanistan should have been asking basic questions all along about the projects for which personnel and commanders in theater were seeking approval, such as: “Why is DoD doing $5 million projects?!” Zakheim said.

Katherine Schinasi, also a commissioner and former GAO official, told the subcommittee the Pentagon has failed to cancel projects in Iraq and Afghanistan that became clearly unsustainable for those nations. 

Kendall told the subcommittee the Pentagon is implementing several of the commission’s recommendations. Defense officials believe they can implement the panel’s recommendations with existing legal authorities, saying the Pentagon does not anticipate asking Congress to help through legislation. 


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