An audit has revealed that the U.S. has spent millions of dollars in lucrative Iraq reconstruction contracts that were never finished because of excessive delays, poor performance or other factors, including failed projects that are being falsely described by the U.S. government as complete. The audit by Stuart Bowen Jr., the special inspector general for Iraq reconstruction, provided the latest snapshot of an uneven reconstruction effort that has cost U.S. taxpayers more than $100 billion. It also comes as several lawmakers have said they want the Iraqis to pick up more of the cost of reconstruction.
The special IG’s review of 47,321 reconstruction projects worth billions of dollars found that at least 855 contracts were terminated by U.S. officials before their completion, primarily because of unforeseen factors such as violence and excessive costs. However, about 112 of those contracts were ended specifically because of the contractors’ actual or anticipated poor performance. The audit also said many reconstruction projects were being described as complete or otherwise successful when they were not. That’s totally unacceptable and can’t be tolerated.
In one case, the U.S. Agency for International Development contracted with Bechtel Corp. in 2004 to construct a $50 million children’s hospital in Basra. That project was changed in 2006 because of tremendous delays. Rather than terminate the project, U.S. officials modified the contract to change the scope of the work. As a result, a U.S. database of Iraq reconstruction contracts shows the project as complete “when in fact the hospital was only 35% complete when work was stopped.” Investigators described the practice of “descoping” as being quite frequent. “Descoping is an appropriate process but does mask problem projects to the extent they occur,” according to the audit.
The audit comes amid renewed focus in recent months on potential abuse in contracting government-wide, such as Iraq reconstruction. Last year, congressional investigators said as much as $10 billion in charges by U.S. contractors for Iraq reconstruction – or one in six dollars — were questionable or unsupported, and warned that significantly more taxpayer money was at risk.
Senator Ben Nelson (D-NE), has been working with Senators Evan Bayh (D-IN), and Susan Collins (R-ME) on legislation that would restrict future reconstruction dollars to loans instead of grants. The legislation would require that Baghdad pay for fuel used by American troops and take over U.S. payments to predominantly Sunni fighters in the Awakening movement. Danielle Brian, executive director of the watchdog group Project on Government Oversight, said the latest audit report points to significant U.S. taxpayer waste in current reconstruction efforts. In this regard, Ms. Brian observed:
The report paints a depressing picture of money being poured into failed Iraq reconstruction projects — contractors are killed, projects are blown up just before being completed, or the contractor just stops doing the work.
It certainly does appear that massive frauds have taken place relating to government contracts in Iraq. The Bush Administration has pushed billions of dollars to private contractors in Iraq and the American taxpayers have footed the bill. I doubt that we will ever determine the full extent of the fraud nor the real cost to taxpayers. This Administration should have lots of answering to do when you consider who some of the private contractors are.
Source: Associated Press
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