Senator fumes at contracting lessons unlearned

The government never learns.

Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.), speaking at a hearing Sept. 21, became livid as the panel discussed the finidings of the Wartime Contracting Commission, which uncovered case after case of wasted dollars in Iraq and Afghanistan, adding up to tens of billions. 

“It makes me.... mad,” McCaskill said, lacing the sentiment with an expletive. She told the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee that the billions of dollars wasted in Iraq and Afghanistan is a repeat of contracting problems in past contingency operations.

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“As one of the generals said to me when I was in Iraq: You know, everything you are seeing in terms of mistakes that have been made, most of them were made in Bosnia,” she testified. “And by the way, there was a lesson learned after Bosnia, except there was one problem: They forgot to learn the lesson.”

McCaskill chairs the committee’s Contracting Oversight Subcommittee.

The Commission on Wartime Contracting in Iraq and Afghanistan released a scathing report in August on poor government management, fraudulent contractors, shoddy work, and little restraint on holding people accountable for their work.

The commission’s report urges the government to bolster competition for contracts, emphasize recording and then using data on a company’s past performances, among many others.

Several commission members testified on Sept. 21, including the commission’s co-chairman Chrisopher Shays, along with Clark Kent Ervin, Robert J. Henke, Katherine Schinasi, Charles Tiefer, and Dov Zakheim.

The commissioners also said the government also needs to hold itself accountable for its decisions.

But “part of the problem is resources,” commission members testified.

The commission members recommended acquisition cadres. They want to elevate the positions of agencies’ senior acquisition officers and create a contingency contracting directorate in the Defense Department. The directorate would deal with the broad range of contracting activities, instead of leaving the issues as a subset of logistics.

The commissioners pulled out two recommendations.

They said the government should create a dual position for an official who would serve at the Office of Management and Budget and participate in National Security Council meetings. Their hope is to bring more coordination and visibility to contingency contracting, which is often a multiple-agency effort.

Secondly, there should be an inspector general for use during contingencies and for providing standards and training for different contingencies. The current special IGs overseeing operations in Iraq and Afghanistan will go away when the operations end.

“A permanent contingency IG, with a small but deployable and expandable staff, can provide interdepartmental oversight from the outset of a contingency,” they said.

Members of Congress have introduced legislation to create that permanent IG position. In addition, the House’s version of the fiscal 2012 National Defense Authorization Act  would create an assistant secretary of defense for contingency contracting.

About the Author

Matthew Weigelt is a freelance journalist who writes about acquisition and procurement.

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Reader comments

Thu, Oct 6, 2011 brazos2

As indicated, most of this can be contributed to lack of trained manpower. Currently, training emphasis IS NOT placed on contingency contracting. While there are a couple of DAU courses on the subject, that’s about it! Instead, overall DAU training is centered on making major systems buys, something of which most of us do not do. Also, over the years, contracting offices has been tasked time after time with additional duties (mostly delegated from other agencies) with no thought to the manpower it takes to do them. Is it a small wonder contracting officers are overloaded and requirements are falling through the cracks? That said, manpower will never be what it should be. The government just can't afford it. On the other hand, how can they afford not to!

Fri, Sep 23, 2011

"A big part of the problem is also a lack of proper training for the officials who are charged with monitoring and ensuring compliance with the contracts." Correct – and if you wonder why little action has been taken to correct this, then remember that; - A very big part of making Gov work like a business was to eliminate the Professional Acquisition workforce. Now 25 years later and a few 100 Billion $$$, People with short memories are asking where are they now. A little Late for that. Instead one should ask how will the corruption system now be purged. You could hire and train all the Prof you want but without first taking out the trash from the front office of R-B, you will never solve the problem - EOF

Fri, Sep 23, 2011

A big part of the problem is also a lack of proper training for the officials who are charged with monitoring and ensuring compliance with the contracts. There is also a big lack of support from higher up government officials when a quality assurance person has a finding and it is not followed up on to ensure compliance or a refund or non payment to the contractor. To much "friends in the business" from the stand point of higher ranking military and civilian government officials with the contractors.

Fri, Sep 23, 2011

Why do we never hear of a government contracting official, high ranking military or government civilian official, or contractor being held liable for actions that are illegal or improper?? When will we administratively fine them or criminally/civilly prosecute them?

Thu, Sep 22, 2011

It must be me. What does oversight mean? I thought it was the oversight committee's job to watch this stuff, not create yet another org to do that. I am consistently baffled by the lack of accountability.

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