In light of billions of dollars in waste identified during U.S.-led Iraq reconstruction efforts, investigators are recommending sweeping changes in how the military administers and oversees contracts.
On Feb. 2, the Office of Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction, led by Inspector General Stuart Bowen, presented a 357-page report to the first hearing of the bipartisan Commission on Wartime Contracting. The report, titled “Hard Lessons: The Iraq Reconstruction Experience,” chronicles how the military executed its rebuilding efforts after the fall of Baghdad, highlighting missteps in planning and execution.
Bowen told the commission the U.S. government must strengthen its ability to manage contracts, noting that, from the beginning, “the scope of reconstruction quickly overwhelmed the U.S. government’s standing capacity to respond. The decision to reduce the number of warranted contracting officers during the 10 years preceding the Iraq invasion proved particularly consequential.”
Faced with insufficient capacity within the government, management was too often outsourced to contractors, which hampered oversight, Bowen added.
“The proliferation of contractors serving as managers and advisers in each of the offices managing reconstruction projects raised questions regarding what constituted an inherently [governmental] activity, and the extent to which oversight authority can be delegated to a contractor,” Bowen said.
Bowen called for new wartime contracting rules, recommending that Congress develop a “Contingency FAR” [federal acquisition regulation] of simplified, uniform rules for conflict environments. To administer contracts, Bowen said a much larger corps of well-trained and experienced contracting officers must be developed and maintained. He also suggested a system to precompete and prequalify a diverse pool of contractors with expertise in post-conflict reconstruction so that qualified firms might be tapped for service as a contingency operation begins.
The report presented to the new commission follows several years of hearings before Congress in which Bowen outlined examples of waste.