|Negroponte Wants to Shift Rebuilding Funds. (Photo courtesy of U.S. Dept. of State)|
State Dept. officials are considering a proposal from U.S. Ambassador to Iraq John D. Negroponte to transfer some funds from infrastructure reconstruction to bolster security resources in that country. The amount involved would be $3.3 billion, according to The Wall Street Journal, which reported the plan on Aug. 30.
State Dept. spokesman Richard Boucher confirmed that Negroponte and senior aides were reviewing construction and other priorities in Iraq. But Boucher declined to specify the amount of money or kinds of infrastructure projects that might be affected. "We want to spend money on the major priorities, which are improving security, increasing Iraqi employment and improving quality of life for all Iraqis," he said.
U. S. embassy staffers in Baghdad have been working with the Iraqi government since the transition of power on June 28 to assess construction progress and revise priorities, Boucher said. "Theyve done their on-the-ground assessment and come up with some recommendations on how to respond to the evolving situation and the evolving priorities. They had discussions not only with the Iraqi government but also with the country team, with sectoral experts that are working with various U.S. implementing agencies in Iraq," Boucher said. Discussions are continuing in Washington and in Iraq, he added.
According to sources in Baghdad, the transfer in funds was requested by Lt. Gen. David Petraeus, former commander of the Armys 101st Airborne Division. Since May, Petraeus has been chief of the Office of Security Transition in Iraq, leading the effort to help Iraqis rebuild their army, civil defense and police force.
If the Bush administration proposes a funding transfer, the shift would require approval by chairmen and ranking minority members of the Senate and House appropriations subcommittees that oversee foreign operations programs, a Senate staffer says.
Last November, Congress approved $18.4 billion for reconstruction, including about $13 billion earmarked for projects in several infrastructure sectors. It is uncertain whether the plan would move funds from projects already under way or shelve projects still on the drawing board.
Critics of the rebuilding program note that only $600 million of the $18.4 billion actually has been spent. But contractors explain that work on a specific project only begins after the government issues a task order. Before a work order is signed, funds up to the ceiling specified in each contract typically are earmarked for the project. According to published reports, officials want to shift funds from water, sewage and electricity projects to hire, train and equip new police officers, border patrols and national guards.
"It is very unclear what effect, if any, this redistribution of funds would have," says Howard N. Menaker, a spokesman for Bechtel National Inc. Bechtel has two prime contracts with the U.S. Agency for International Development for infrastructure rebuilding.