Members of the Commission on Wartime Contracting in Iraq and Afghanistan were sharply critical of the State Dept’s handling of private contractors in Iraq and questioned whether the agency is prepared to take over responsibility for overseeing contracting in Iraq when the military pulls out in October.

Members of the congressionally mandated panel met on June 6 in Washington to hear from the State Dept.’s undersecretary for management, Patrick F. Kennedy.

The commission’s co-chairman, Christopher Shays, a former Republican congressman from Connecticut, asked Kennedy why the State Dept. had said it would be too burdensome for State officials to document the reasons why they refused to debar or suspend contractors when contracting officers recommended punitive action. “I find it outrageous that when a contracting officer recommends debarment or suspensions that there shouldn’t be justification” for refusing to follow that recommendation, Shays said.

Kennedy said he would revisit the issue, noting that the State Dept. already has implemented a number of improvements in its contract oversight and management process. While challenges remain, “we believe we have instituted a sound foundation to carry us forward,” he said.

The reconstruction efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan have been plagued by delays, waste and, in some cases, subpar work, according to documentation by the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction, the commission and others.

On June 3, the commission released a report that concluded even well-built facilities could fail if the Iraqi government doesn’t have the funding or trained staff to sustain them. The commission cited several causes for this problem, including “overly ambitious proposals, incomplete analysis, poor planning, weak coordination and inadequate follow-through.”