A new report by the federal government's watchdog shows executive branch agencies are failing to comply with the most important recommendations of a commission set up to study waste and oversight failures in wartime contracting--a conclusion that Senators Jim Webb (D-VA) and Claire McCaskill (D-MO) say underscores the need for their bipartisan legislation to overhaul the way the federal government contracts during wartime.
The report by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) shows how agencies within the executive branch have failed to address and implement many recommendations of the Commission on Wartime Contracting in Iraq and Afghanistan, an independent, bipartisan panel that Senators Webb and McCaskill created through legislation they introduced in 2007. Senators Webb, McCaskill, and Kelly Ayotte (R-NH) requested yesterday's report.
"This report confirms concerns I raised earlier, that the State Department and USAID have failed to address the Commission's most important recommendations," said Senator Webb, who served as a combat Marine in Vietnam, an Assistant Secretary of Defense and Secretary of the Navy. "Congress is at a pivotal moment in our need to reassert good governance and proper stewardship of taxpayer dollars. By passing this bipartisan legislation, we can improve accountability in the contracting processes, and prevent future waste and fraud."
"If federal agencies aren't going to take action to protect taxpayer dollars against waste, fraud, and abuse, then we've got to require them to act," said Senator McCaskill, Chairman of the Senate Subcommittee on Contracting Oversight. "The findings of this latest report underscore why Congress needs to pass our bipartisan legislation. It's time to use the roadmap provided by the Commission to completely change the way our government contracts during wartime, to make sure these failures are never repeated, and to better protect taxpayer dollars. As I said when this bill was first introduced, 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."
While the report found the Department of Defense has taken steps to comply with some of the recommendations to better manage how the department handles contracting in contingencies, the report also highlighted that both the State Department and the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) have largely failed to act. According to GAO, the Defense Department has acted or plans to act on half of the Commission's recommendations while the State Department and USAID have acted or plan to act on less than one-third of the recommendations, claiming that many of them are inapplicable.
The report also found that none of the three agencies plan to act on recommendations to elevate positions of authority and responsibility for wartime contracting decisions within the agencies. Of the three, the Defense Department is the only agency to implement a senior-level board and formal process for addressing the recommendations.
The Commission--modeled after the "Truman Committee" which investigated waste and fraud during World War II and 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 waste and fraud in Iraq and Afghanistan. The Commission identified major failures in contingency contracting planning, execution and oversight within the government. It concluded 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.
In June, Senators Webb and McCaskill introduced a strengthened version of their Comprehensive Contingency Contracting Reform Act, with bipartisan support from Senators Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) and Susan Collins (R-Maine)--the Chairman and Ranking Republican Member, respectively, of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee-- along with Senators Al Franken (D-Minn.), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), and Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.). Senators Jon Tester (D-Mont.) and Joe Manchin (D-W. Va.) have also joined the bill.
The strengthened provisions in the Comprehensive Contingency Contracting Reform Act--which is available online, HERE--would improve contracting practices and 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.