Saying the time is now to eliminate the systemic problems that have led to the waste of billions of taxpayer dollars, U.S. Senators Jim Webb (Va.) and Claire McCaskill (Mo.) today introduced landmark legislation that would overhaul the federal government's planning, management, and oversight of contracting during overseas contingency operations.
The senators' comprehensive reform legislation builds on the recommendations of the U.S. Commission on Wartime Contracting in Iraq and Afghanistan--an independent, bipartisan panel that Webb and McCaskill created through legislation they introduced in 2007.
The Commission--modeled after the "Truman Committee" which investigated waste and fraud during World War II and which issued its first report to Congress in 1942--spent three years investigating contracts in Iraq and Afghanistan. In its final report to Congress, issued last August, the panel estimated that the U.S. had squandered up to $60 billion through contract waste and fraud in Iraq and Afghanistan. The Commission identified major failures in contingency contracting planning, execution and oversight within the government, concluding such waste will increase if accountability is not improved as U.S. operations in Iraq and Afghanistan wind down, support for programs declines, and major reconstruction projects become unsustainable.
The legislation also builds upon the work of the Senate Subcommittee on Contracting Oversight, chaired by McCaskill.
"This legislation affirms the important work that has been done by the great majority of our wartime-support contractors," said Senator Webb, who served as a combat Marine in Vietnam, an Assistant Secretary of Defense and Secretary of the Navy. "At the same time it recognizes the necessity to improve government management and accountability in the contracting process that resulted in unacceptable costs, excessive waste, and substandard performance in far too many areas. My principle focus in these reforms has been to streamline governmental processes in the Defense Department, State Department and USAID in order to improve the efficiencies of this essential practice."
"It's been seventy years since Harry Truman and the Truman Committee presented their first report to Congress, and accountability in government is still a Missouri value I'm proud to fight for in the Senate," said McCaskill, a former Missouri State Auditor. "When Jim and I got here, nobody was paying attention to the billions of taxpayer dollars being wasted in Iraq and Afghanistan. But with the roadmap provided by the Commission report, we can change the way our government contracts during wartime, and make sure these failures are never repeated."
Webb and McCaskill's bill marks a pivotal moment in their five-year fight to address failures in the management and oversight of federal contracting in Iraq and Afghanistan that allowed waste, fraud, and abuse to flourish. The Comprehensive Contingency Contracting Reform Act of 2012 (S.2139)--which is available online, HERE--would strengthen contracting practices and improve accountability across the federal government by:
* Elevating oversight responsibility, improving management structures, expanding planning requirements, and reforming contracting practices during overseas military contingencies;
* Requiring the government to identify how it will pay for military operations overseas;
* Improving the contracting process through greater transparency, competition, and professional education;
* Instituting additional provisions for contractor accountability.
During a 2011 hearing of McCaskill's subcommittee, officials were unable to name a single office or individual in the Defense Department or across government with overall responsibility for the oversight, planning, and execution of contracting in contingency operations. The legislation would require the Defense Department, State Department, and the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) to establish clear lines of authority and responsibility for contractor support in advance of a military contingency.
The Comprehensive Contingency Contracting Reform Act of 2012 would also increase the authority, responsibilities and involvement of inspectors general during contingency operations, decrease reliance on no-bid contracts, and strengthen the requirements for suspension and debarment officials in the Defense Department, the military departments, State Department, and USAID. The legislation would require U.S. combatant commanders, in consultation with the secretaries of the Defense Department and State Department, to perform a risk analysis prior to the use of private security contractors. Other provisions in the bill would require automatic suspension for contractors who have been indicted in civil or criminal cases alleging fraud.
Webb and McCaskill--both members of the Senate Armed Services Committee--said they plan to continue gathering input on their proposals and hope to seek a vote on their legislation this year. McCaskill also plans to hold hearings on the legislation.
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