$5B in CENTCOM Contracting Under Scrutiny
Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman recently said [release | full press conference transcript] that US Department of Defense officials are concerned with the number of contracting improprieties that have been uncovered within the CENTCOM area of responsibility. Problems with the contracts run the gamut of seriousness from bid-rigging, kickbacks and product substitution to double billing, and Whitman added that the DoD is concerned about “ensuring the integrity of our accounting systems, as well as the integrity of our contracting procedures.” The former could be a tall order; accounting systems have been a long-standing issue in the Pentagon.
The Army is the lead agency in the investigations, which cover up to $5 billion in contracts for goods and services issued in Iraq, Kuwait and Afghanistan…
The Army Audit Agency, Army Criminal Investigation Command, Defense Contract Auditing Agency, Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction, FBI, Defense Criminal Investigative Service, and US Justice Department, including state district attorneys, are cooperating in this effort, which target government employees, contractors, military personnel and local nationals. As of Aug 23/07, Army spokesman Col. Dan Baggio reports that 73 criminal investigations relating to contract fraud in the region had been started, and 20 civilians and military personnel have been charged with taking some $15 million in bribes.
Recent examples include an Army Captain who demanded bribes [PDF format]; and 3 defendants who allegedly pocketed almost $10 million [PDF format] in exchange for steering contracts for items like bottled water.
None of this is deeply surprising. As recently as World War 2, the Truman Commission estimated $10-15 billion savings in unadjusted 1945-era dollars, as a result of its investigations, and the American policy of giving funds to local and regional contractors opens new opportunities. The key is how effective the system for uncovering and prosecuting serious misconduct turns out to be, and what kind of general fixes can be implemented to improve the situation.
That job becomes even more challenging beyond the US military’s reach, where shifting loyalties and lax local attitudes toward corruption make it difficult to implement Western-level controls. On that note, Defense Department Inspector General Claude M. Kicklighter will be taking a look at the issue of weapons and munitions that were purchased by the U.S. Government, and intended for use by Iraq and Afghanistan security forces. Thousands of those weapons are now unaccounted for, a development that can hardly be called surprising.
Nevertheless, the Inspector General team will continue its work in theater by tackling this issue, making what recommendations it can to improve the process from the American end, and trying to help the Iraqi and Afghan armies improve.