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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