Commission on Wartime Contracting Holds First Hearing

The Commission on Wartime Contracting in Iraq and Afghanistan (CWC) will have its initial hearing today at the Russell Senate Office Building in Washington, DC. The hearing will coincide with the public release of SIGIR’s “Hard Lessons: The Iraq Reconstruction Experience” report on five years of investigating waste, fraud, and abuse in the reconstruction effort in Iraq. Special Inspector General Stuart Bowen will discuss his new SIGIR report, the Commissioners will then hear from a panel of three witnesses representing the inspector-general functions of the Departments of Defense and State, and the U.S. Agency for International Development. All three agencies are involved in wartime contracting in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Excerpts from the SIGIR report:
Of the many lessons to be drawn from Iraq reconstruction, the most compelling speak to the need to develop an agreed-upon doctrine and structure for contingency relief and reconstruction operations to guide the use of military and economic power so that the United States is ready when it next must intervene in a failed or failing state.

Its most significant hard learned lessons include the following items on the interagency system and on human resources issues in contingency relief and reconstruction operations. The 378-page report is available on PDF file here.

On executive authority:

The role of executive authority—and the lack thereof—over interagency coordination lies at the heart of the failures in the Iraq reconstruction program. The question of who was in charge, both in Washington and in Baghdad, was fiercely contested throughout the reconstruction effort. Was the CPA Administrator the President’s envoy or an employee of the Secretary of Defense? Was the ambassador to Iraq the President’s personal representative, with authority over all U.S. personnel and resources, or merely the chief State Department official? Do personnel on detail report through their agency chain of command or to the heads of embassy sections? To what extent can the “lines-of-operation” coordinators designated by the ambassador and the commanding general task agencies under their purview for support? The lack of unity of command in Iraq meant that unity of effort was seldom achieved. Too often, programs were designed to meet agency goals, rather than U.S. national interests. Stronger integration was needed not only between the military and civilian agencies but also among the civilian agencies themselves. With weak interagency cooperation an endemic feature of the U.S. national security system, reform efforts should press for structures that will promote the development of a unifying strategy with clearly delineated agency responsibilities and adequate authority to enforce its execution.

On staffing issues:

Despite the crucial need for diplomatic skills and development expertise in contingency relief and reconstruction operations, as well as for area experts fluent in local culture and politics, the civilian agencies that provide them proved unable to staff the number of positions needed in Iraq. The Iraq reconstruction experience illustrates the extent to which civilian agencies do not have the capacity to project power abroad. Cuts at USAID have halved the number of permanent government employees at that agency, severely attenuating its technical competence and managerial facility. To remedy this weakness, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates has called for a “dramatic increase in spending on the civilian instruments of national security.” The Congress and the President should consider a long-term strategy for building technical and area expertise in the government’s civilian diplomatic and development agencies and creating mechanisms for deploying such capabilities abroad in times of crisis and peace.

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