Pentagon Under Fire Over War Contracts

Aug. 30, 2011
Panel: 'Tens of billions of taxpayer dollars have been wasted.'

The Pentagon has wasted more than $30 billion on contracts in Iraq and Afghanistan due to shoddy management and a lack of competition, an independent inquiry said Monday.

In its final report to Congress due to be released Wednesday, the bipartisan Commission on Wartime Contracting warns that waste and fraud have undermined American diplomacy, fomented corruption in host countries and tarnished the U.S. image abroad.

"Tens of billions of taxpayer dollars have been wasted through poor planning, vague and shifting requirements, inadequate competition, substandard contract management and oversight, lax accountability, weak inter-agency coordination, and subpar performance or outright misconduct by some contractors and federal employees," the co-chairs of the panel, Christopher Shays and Michael Thibault, wrote in the Washington Post.

"Both government and contractors need to do better," said the commentary published Monday.

The report comes amid mounting pressure in Washington to scale back defense spending and waning public support for the Afghan mission after nearly a decade of war.

'America Is Over-Relying on Contractors'

The U.S. military increasingly has turned to private companies since the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks, with the contractor workforce at times surpassing 260,000 people -- a roughly one-to-one ratio with troops deployed.

But the commission found that the United States went to war in Afghanistan in 2001 and in Iraq in 2003 without sufficiently preparing to handle the "enormous scale and numbers of contracts."

As a result, "America is over-relying on contractors," they said.

The commission chiefs also warned that another $30 billion or more could be wasted if the Iraqi or Afghan "governments are unable or unwilling to sustain U.S.-funded projects after our involvement ends."

The Pentagon said previous inquiries had pointed out problems with contracting and the department had enacted a number of reforms as a result.

"We are well-aware of some of the deficiencies over the years in how we've worked contracts," spokesman Colonel Dave Lapan told reporters.

"We have worked hard over those years to try to correct those deficiencies when we've come across them," said Lapan.

The department will review the report to look for any additional measures to prevent waste, he added.

Prison That Iraq 'Did Not Want'

Among the examples cited by the commission was a $40 million prison built in Iraq that the Baghdad government "did not want and that was never finished," Shays and Thibault wrote.

In Afghanistan, the United States spent $300 million on a power plant in Kabul that the Afghan government cannot afford to sustain and lacks the technical experts to run, the panel found.

Another report out Monday found the Pentagon has almost tripled funding for no-bid contracts since the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, from $50 billion in 2001 to $140 billion in 2010.

The lack of competition in contracting has resulted in waste, lower quality services and fraud, according to the investigative report by the nonprofit Center for Public Integrity.

In one case, a Tucson-based company, Applied Energetics, won more than $50 million in funding for a futuristic "lightning weapon" that is supposed to detonate roadside bombs, even though it had failed some tests.

In August, the Marine Corps canceled the latest $3 million proposed contract after a commander in Afghanistan decided the weapon would not provide what his unit needed.

No-Bid Contracts Sometimes Necessary?

The Defense Department often justifies no-bid contracts by saying there is only one legitimate supplier of certain goods, that there is "an unusual and compelling urgency" or that holding a competition would undermine national security, the report said.

During his 2008 presidential campaign, Barack Obama vowed to rein in contracting and after his election, issuing a memorandum calling for more competition. But the report found that Pentagon no-bid contracts have continued to increase.

The Pentagon said no-bid contracts were sometimes necessary to rush sophisticated equipment to troops in combat.

"There have been many instances because of wartime needs where a long, lengthy competitive-bid contract process does not serve the needs of the war fighters," Lapan said.

Copyright Agence France-Presse, 2011

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