Unrelated News: When the city of Scranton, Pa., found itself down to its last $5,000 in the bank last week, it unilaterally cut the pay of city workers— including police officers and firefighters— to the minimum wage, just $7.25 an hour. “The teenagers who work at the ice cream stand not far from my house, they make $8.50 an hour — that’s a dollar and a quarter more than I now make,” said John Judge, a 10-year veteran firefighter.
U.S. auditors have concluded that more than $200 million was wasted by the State Department on a training program for Iraqi police that Baghdad says is neither needed nor wanted.
The Police Development Program— which was drawn up to be the single largest State Department program in the world — was envisioned as a five-year, multibillion-dollar push to train security forces after the U.S. military left last December. A report by the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction (SIGIR), released Monday, found that the American Embassy in Baghdad never got a written commitment from Iraq to participate. Now, facing what the report called Baghdad’s “disinterest” in the project, the embassy is gutting what was supposed to be the centerpiece of ongoing U.S. training efforts in Iraq.
According to the report, the embassy plans to turn over the $108 million Baghdad Police College Annex to Iraqis by the end of the year and will stop training at a $98 million site at the U.S. consulate in the southern city of Basra. Additionally, the number of advisers has been cut by nearly 90 percent — from 350 to 36.
SIGIR auditors noted that it “has clearly been difficult” for American diplomats to secure a solid commitment from Iraq’s government to participate in the training program. Still, the report concluded, “the decision to embark on a major program absent Iraqi buy-in has been costly” and resulted in “a de facto waste.”
In its last on-the-record comments about the failed police program, the State Department stated “We have no intention to cancel our police training program in Iraq… As you know, we are absolutely committed to supporting Iraqi self-reliance… And in this case, they are asking us to continue the advisory and training program but to downsize it.”
All told, SIGIR said the United States spent about $8 billion to train and equip Iraqi police since the 2003 U.S.-led invasion.
The Associated Press gently opined that “the findings call into question funding needs at the largest U.S. embassy in the world.”
I am not so gentle: at a time when American towns cannot afford to pay their own cops a living wage, the State Department diplomats who went ahead with a $200 million program for police in Iraq without local buy-in should be brought to trial for gross waste and mismanagement. This level of incompetence is criminal. This track record demands that State no longer be allowed to touch reconstruction money (Haiti, Afghanistan) without adult supervision. People, we need this money at home. Stop. the. waste.
Bonus: According to the most recent SIGIR report, the Department of State has 1,235 U.S. government civilian employees and 13,772 contractors (5,737 of whom were providing security services) on the payroll in Iraq.
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