• State Dept Ducks Oversight on Iraq Reconstruction Projects

    January 29, 2012 // 1 Comment »

    The Washington Post has an important article online and in print criticizing the World’s Most Expensive Embassy (c) for choosing to not provide a complete list of all the projects undertaken as part of the reconstruction of Iraq.

    “After eight years, we still don’t have a full account of what it was we provided the Iraqis,” Stuart W. Bowen Jr., the US special inspector general for Iraq reconstruction, said in the article. “There was no unity of command, no unity of effort.” The inventory listed 5,289 projects valued at about $15 billion as of June 30, 2011, according to auditors. Bowen said there were actually tens of thousands of projects valued at approximately $40 billion.

    In response, the World’s Most Expensive Embassy (c) in Baghdad said they had negotiated an agreement with Iraq so its government could “focus its limited resources” on large capital projects. Embassy officials also cited bookkeeping of previous agencies and said the auditors’ criticisms failed to recognize that Iraq already has assumed more control over projects.

    Of course this is all, respectfully of course, bullshit.

    Everything funded via CERP (Commanders Emergency Response Program, Army money) is fully documented in a database. Same for everything paid for by State via their QRF (Quick Response Funds), it is all documented in an online database. Every State project carried a unique number (most projects referenced in my book We Meant Well include these unique numbers as references). I am not sure what the other two sources mentioned in the Post refer to, but one of them is likely USAID and they also maintained a database. If the fourth source is US Department of Agriculture, who spent a lot of money in Iraq, those are also well-documented. Any subcontractors hired were required to report on their projects.

    So if this information is available for all of the effort of hitting the “print” button, why conceal it?

    State most likely wants to hide a lot of its waste and mismanagement, as well as bury the many smaller projects that “walked away” as the Iraqis simply sold them off, dismantled them or noticed that what the US claimed was built or bought never really existed. State has no interest in having some of its more comical, stupid and pointless efforts exposed, as hinted at on Foreign Policy.com.

    State continues to insist no independent agency, such as SIGIR, has jurisdiction to oversee its work in Iraq. Does anyone still wonder why State insists no oversight applies?

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    Posted in Embassy/State, Iraq

    Afghan $4 Million Road to Nowhere

    November 16, 2011 // Comments Off on Afghan $4 Million Road to Nowhere

    In We Meant Well I chronicle an almost endless list of reconstruction projects that failed, either due to corruption, stupidity or both. In Iraq we spent millions to pave roads from nowhere to nowhere (waste), or to pave roads that did not exist (corruption), or in one instance I wrote about, pave a road that ended up making it easier for insurgents to shift fighters around and thus had to be unpaved at our own expense (both).

    The Miami Herald features a story about failed road work as part of the US’ efforts to reconstruct Afghanistan. The tale could easily be another chapter in We Meant Well, except that the loss of money is in the millions and climbing, the setting is Afghanistan and not Iraq, and that it shows no one learned anything from the debacle in Iraq.

    The Herald writes:

    From 2008 to 2010, the U.S. government paid $4 million to RWA, a consortium of three Afghan contractors – only to see it pave less than two-thirds of a mile on a road that’s supposed to stretch 17.5 miles. The contractors said the area had become too violent to work in, but U.S. and Afghan provincial officials think that two of the principals absconded to New Zealand and the Netherlands, having pocketed much of the cash.

    U.S. officials describe the Ghazni affair in positive terms: They saved the $6 million that remained on the contract for other projects, terminated RWA’s existing contracts and blackballed it from future work, and say they’re ready to cooperate with Afghan investigators should they decide to pursue legal action against the consortium.

    But it’s also a reminder that corruption, violence and political disputes continue to plague U.S. reconstruction efforts in Afghanistan.

    Last year, a McClatchy Newspapers investigation found that U.S. government funding for at least 15 large-scale Afghan programs and projects ballooned from just over $1 billion to nearly $3 billion – despite questions about their effectiveness or cost – in the headlong rush to rebuild the country and shore up its struggling government.

    The whole story is worth reading, on the Herald site. If you live in Detroit, or New Orleans, or anywhere in the US with crumbling infrastructure, try pretending to be Afghani to secure US government funding. It may work!

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    Posted in Embassy/State, Iraq

    Want to Know the Cost of Iraq War? Wait until 2031

    October 3, 2011 // Comments Off on Want to Know the Cost of Iraq War? Wait until 2031

    The internal records of a congressionally mandated panel that reported staggering estimates of wasteful U.S. wartime spending will remain sealed to the public until 2031, officials confirmed, as the panel closes its doors on Friday.

    The Commission on Wartime Contracting in Iraq and Afghanistan was established by Congress in 2008 and spent three years probing more than $206 billion the U.S. government spent on contracts and grants during a decade of conflict.

    In a final, 240-page report issued in late August, the panel estimated that the U.S. had wasted or misspent between $31 billion and $60 billion contracting for services. The commission’s management estimates that the three years of research and investigations themselves cost approximately $25 million.

    Want to know more? Wait until 2031 (no hurry, we’ll still be at war in Afghanistan), or read the whole article.

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    Posted in Embassy/State, Iraq

    US has Wasted $30 Billion on Iraq, Afghanistan Contracts

    August 30, 2011 // Comments Off on US has Wasted $30 Billion on Iraq, Afghanistan Contracts

    Remember when America was rich? We could spend money on space ships, fancy cars and wars, lots of wars. It turns out that much of that money was wasted, leaving us poor and bent over while Chinese people dance happily around us.

    But don’t listen to me.

    Listen to the The Commission on Wartime Contracting in Iraq and Afghanistan, which will submit another sad report to Congress tomorrow.

    That report is expected to say the federal government wasted more than $30 billion on contracts and grants in Iraq and Afghanistan, and that without “major changes in law and policy” we’ll enjoy such a large degree of waste in future conflicts already now in planning. The waste works out to one in every six dollars spent.

    Peter wrote a whole book about this, which you can pre-order now, or pick up later in September at your fave bookstore. While the Commission on Wartime Contracting cites two juicy examples of waste– a $40 million prison in Iraq the country did not want and which was not completed, and a $300 million Kabul power plant that requires sustained funding and expertise that Kabul does not have the resources to provide– Peter devotes a whole chapter to his favorite wasted projects. These are smaller amounts of money that nonetheless illustrate the larger problem.

    Stand outs include $10,000 worth of “Pastry Classes for Disadvantaged Women,” encouraging them to open bakeries on streets without water or sewers. Another was $25,000 worth of children’s bicycles. On streets filled with trash, pockmarked with shell craters, and ruled by wild dog packs, riding the bikes was impossible. Some of the bicycle wheels were later repurposed for use on wheelchairs.

    About $22,000 of your tax money was spent to paint a mural on the side of a gym— think oiled musclemen. The purpose was to “provide an aesthetically pleasing sight upon entry, helping to bring a sense of normalcy for the citizens in the area and for those passing through.”

    The best one was $12,000 worth of computers for internet use in a school that had no electricity. The school also had no teachers or students, but the PCs were supposed to encourage them.

    In the book you can also read about millions more spent, on a Baghdad Yellow Pages, repairing the local zoo, driving lessons, empty factories and rug making collectives that employed child labor. Never mind plans for the Baghdad Subway.

    The Commission on Wartime Contracting in Iraq and Afghanistan has been featured on this blog before.

    We wrote about how the Commission found that US contract money was handed over to insurgent groups, allowing us to fund both sides of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

    The Commission also popped up when it reported an audit that found that State didn’t properly handle $172.4 million from funds for the training of the Afghan National Police (ANP). Additionally, the report found that some of those funds went to paying contractors for hours they didn’t work. Some of the money was improperly spent in other areas.

    Lastly, we reported on how State is objecting to continued oversight by the Commission. State is tired of being called out on its waste and would prefer that the Commission just go away and leave them to waste in peace.

    But maybe none of this matters. The war in Afghanistan now costs two billion dollars a week.

    Read more at www.wartimecontracting.gov

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    Posted in Embassy/State, Iraq

    Markup at Macy’s: USG W-A-Y Overpays in Iraq

    August 11, 2011 // 4 Comments »

    Maybe this is a good way to create jobs: have the US Government wildly overpay for things, pumping millions of dollars into the economy. It seems to have worked, actually, albeit in the United Arab Emirates.

    According to a recent report by the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction (SIGIR), a United Arab Emirates-based logistics contractor billed Defense Department authorities in Iraq for parts at prices marked up as high as 5,000 percent and 12,000 percent.

    A review of a $119 million reconstruction and logistics contract with Anham LLC questioned almost 40 percent of its costs, including:

    — $900 for a control switch valued at $7.05 (a 12,666 percent increase);

    — $80 for a small segment of drainpipe valued at $1.41 (a 5,574 percent increase);

    — $75 for a different piece of plumbing equipment also valued at $1.41 (a 5,219 percent increase);

    — $3,000 for a circuit breaker valued at $94.47 (a 3,076 percent increase);

    — $4,500 for another kind of circuit breaker valued at $183.30 (a 2,355 percent increase).

    Meanwhile, we have no money at home for schools, roads, social security or snacks at meetings.

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    Posted in Embassy/State, Iraq