Would McCaskill's Contingency Contracting IG be Worth It?
by Gary Therkildsen*, 10/5/2010
At a Senate Armed Services hearing last week, Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-MO) urged officials from the Department of Defense (DOD) to establish a permanent inspector general office for contingency contracting. If the billions wasted through our rebuilding efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan – which, by the way, are likely to be the kinds of wars we are going to fight into the indefinite future – is any measure, it seems a permanent IG might be worth the investment.
The government has set up special inspectors general in Iraq and Afghanistan to watch over reconstruction, but those shops are likely to close down as soon as we wrap up our war fighting efforts in those countries. Unfortunately, the lessons learned from those endeavors would likely disappear as well.
Recognizing this, McCaskill told Undersecretary of Defense Ashton Carter, "creating a permanent IG office dedicated to contingency contracting oversight" would "institutionalize the lessons learned" by special inspectors general offices in the Middle East. Carter promised to "take back" the recommendation to DOD.
McCaskill is not the first person to float this idea. In February, Stuart Bowen, the special inspector general for Iraq reconstruction, told the Commission on Wartime Contracting that the creation of a permanent contingency contracting oversight office is "critical" to the nation's interests.
Bowen's testimony was part of a larger report his office had recently released on reforming the government's overseas contingency efforts, which his office refers to as stabilization and reconstruction operations (SROs). Bowen, like McCaskill, argued for a much more coordinated approach, especially in oversight, but was even bolder in his demands.
During his testimony, Bowen pointed out that existing IG offices are insufficient because they do not posses interagency authority, which an oversight office like the one McCaskill has called for might suffer from as well:
The challenges inherent in operating in SRO environments, the specialized nature of contingency contracting, and the sheer number of programs and projects requiring review militate in favor of creating a single standing oversight capability for all SROs. Because these contingency operations are necessarily interagency enterprises, the body charged with overseeing them should possess a mandate enabling it to audit, inspect, evaluate, and investigate programs and projects conducted by any agency present in theater.
Regardless of its independence, though, a permanent contingency contracting IG would help the government save money. Inspectors general offices vary in their returns on the dollar – Social Security's IG brings in $6 for every dollar invested in the office, whereas Health and Human Services' brings in $13 – but the high dollar values and rampant cases of fraud, waste, and abuse connected to contingency contracting make it a good target for permanent oversight.
Image by Flickr user smays used under a Creative Commons license.