Tuesday, August 02, 2005

Bush's Toughest Critic On Iraqi Reconstruction? It's Not a Democrat ...

You probably don't know Stuart Bowen's name, but you have to be impressed with his his dedication to the Iraqi reconstruction effort.

Bowen, the special inspector general for Iraq reconstruction, may be the Bush Administration's toughest critic there.

Bowen, according to a story in the July 26 edition of the Wall Street Journal, "has become one of the most prominent and credible critics of how the administration has handled the occupation of Iraq. In a series of blistering public reports, he has detailed systemic management failings, lax or nonexistent oversight, and apparent fraud and embezzlement on the part of the U.S. officials charged with administering the rebuilding efforts."

As you might expect, Bowen has been harshly criticized by various parts of the Bush Administration. The State Department and the Defense Department have tried to curb the independence of his office, the Journal reports.

For critics of the administration -- who charge that it failed to properly plan for the reconstruction, including the inaccurate prediction that oil revenues would contribute significantly to reconstruction costs -- Bowen's independence is a breath of fresh air.

The irony, though, is that when his position was first created, Democrats assumed that Bowen would provide sunny, spin-driven reviews of the reconstruction effort. For example, Rep. Henry Waxman (D-CA) last year, in a report on "The Politicization of Inspectors General," suggested that auditors such as Bowen wouldn't be "independent and objective."

He has proven them wrong.

***

A report released July 31 by Bowen said the U.S. risks having "little to show for billions" of dollars spent on Iraqi reconstruction, in large part because of mismanagement.

U.S. agencies must determine whether they have enough money to finish the projects and whether the Iraqis have "the tools and knowledge necessary" to keep the projects working after the Americans leave, Bowen wrote. "A failure on either of these points risks leaving little to show for billions in U.S. infrastructure investment," he said, according to an Aug. 1 story in USA Today.

Since arriving in Iraq in February of last year, Bowen has reported:

-- In a January report, Bowen concluded that the American occupation authority failed to keep track of nearly $9 billion that it transferred to Iraqi government ministries, which lacked financial controls and internal safeguards to prevent abuse. One Iraqi ministry cited in the audit inflated its payroll to receive extra funds, claiming to employ 8,206 guards when it actually employed barely 600.

-- A contractor charged the U.S. $3.3 million for phantom employees assigned to an oil-pipeline repair contract.

-- Bowen recently gave the Justice Department information on possibly criminal behavior on the part of U.S. contracting officers in Hillah, the first time government officials have been implicated in potential fraud in Iraq. The officers left the country with no record of how they had spent nearly $1.5 million that couldn't be found by investigators.

-- Regarding reconstruction in Hillah, the U.S. government paid a contractor twice of the same work. Of the $119.9 million allocated for regional projects, $89.4 million was disbursed without contracts or other documentation. An additional $7.2 million couldn't be found at all. A U.S. official was allowed to handle millions of dollars in cash weeks after he was fired for incompetence.

-- An Army soldier serving as the assistant to an American boxing coach admitted to gambling away half the $40,000 he was given to cover the expenses of an Iraqi athletic team during a trip to the Philippines; his case was referred to the military's justice system for a court-martial.

-- An employee of the Coalition Provisional Authority comptroller in Baghdad kept the key to a safe containing more than $140,000 in cash in an unattended backpack.

***

Bowen is a Texas lawyer and longtime Bush associate. In 1994, he was a senior member of Bush's first run for governor. He then served as assistant general counsel in the governor's office, and then deputy general counsel under current U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales.

When Bush first ran for president, Bowen spent 35 days in Florida during the recount, and then as deputy counsel to the Bush transition team.

He left the administration in 2003 to join Washington law firm Patton Boggs, and soon began lobbying on behalf of URS Group, a San Francisco company specializing in international construction planning and management. URS ultimately won contracts from the provisional authority for $30 million, to oversee reconstruction projects.

Later that year, Congress created a CPA inspector general to "oversee how the money was spent -- a post that eventually morphed into the job of inspector general for all Iraq reconstruction," the Journal wrote. "In January 2004, the White House tapped Mr. Bowen, perceived as a loyal Bush ally, to fill that position."

The office, with a $75 million budget, was to present quarterly reports to Congress.

"At the request of the Bush administration, the job was created with many strings attached. Unlike other federal inspectors general, the new official was to be appointed by the secretary of defense, not the president, and wouldn't be subject to Senate confirmation. The White House also won the right to block the inspector general from releasing a report on national-security grounds -- though none have been blocked so far," the Journal wrote.

6 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

No Medal of Freedom for this guy.
Even Bush's own disciples cannot keep the lid on his administration's gross mismanagement and incompetence -- this time it's on the Iraq reconstruction effort.
In a real world, this would send a signal loud and clear to all concerned Americans.
How much longer will we put up with this administration's pillaging of our tax dollars on waste and theft while the mainstream media throws an approving wink and nudge.
Who the hell is protecting us anyway?
This Bowen story should be front page news in every newspaper across America. Instead we get stories ad naseum about a Democrat questioning judge Roberts' catholicism.

3:11 PM  
Blogger orangeroom said...

It’s amazing that the Bush Administration goes out of its way to hold teachers and students “accountable” for federal dollars through rigorous testing, but when it comes to the military (and military contractors) they disperse the money and look the other way. If it were up to me I’d trust the decisions of schools with federal dollars over the decisions of the military. The Defense Department would rather throw millions down the black holes of contractors than provide adequate armor for our soldiers.

5:11 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Of course, when you look the other way, you're corporate friends are happy.

5:15 PM  
Anonymous Bill O'reilly said...

The reason that report is not getting circulated further is because it's not fair and balanced like me.

5:21 PM  
Blogger Michael said...

Can anyone in our government guarantee that those missing millions (billions?) of US tax dollars, which our grandchildren will likely be forced to pay, hasn't ended up in the hands of the new up-and-growing terrorist class of "insurgents" in Iraq?

6:02 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Re: Iraq reconstruction expense abuses and related Bushie corporate windfalls.
If the Democrats held control over congress, the Republican wolf packs and their right-wing media facilitators would be circling, snarling and foaming at the mouth demanding a full congressional investigation.
In the current environment, however, a Durbin-style Democrat raises his voice and he is ripped apart and bloodied by these same mongrels.
The media won't do it, so should Fitzgerald's conclusions of the Plamegate scandal this fall fail to finally rip the door off this administration, our next best hope lies in the 2006 mid-term elections.

6:29 PM  

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