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Public Statements

CERP Reform

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC

Mrs. McCASKILL. Mr. President, I have offered an amendment to the Defense authorization bill that unfortunately we are not going to get a chance to vote on, but I want to begin talking about it because I think this is something we need to do as we appropriate money for our military for the next year.

I wish to start by saying that I support the mission in Afghanistan, but after years of work on wartime contracting issues and looking at the way we have spent money through contracting in both Iraq and Afghanistan, I have come to a stark and real conclusion about the money we have wasted and continue to waste in this effort.

We are building infrastructure in Afghanistan that we cannot secure and that will not be sustained. Since 2004, the Defense Department--just the Defense Department, not the State Department--has spent more than $6.9 billion in Iraq and Afghanistan on humanitarian stabilization projects that include infrastructure, energy, and road construction.

Primarily, this has occurred through what is known as the CERP fund. ``CERP'' stands for ``Commanders Energy Response Program.'' This began as an effort in the war against insurgencies, the counterinsurgency effort, the COIN strategy. This began as a good idea where the commanders on the ground would have money they could directly access to do small neighborhood projects, to win the hearts and minds, to secure a neighborhood, to stabilize a community.

These projects were envisioned, when I first came to the Senate, as fixing broken panes of glass in a shopkeeper's window. This program has morphed into something much different than what was envisioned at the beginning of the counterinsurgency effort in Iraq. These $100 projects, $1,000 projects, are now hundreds of millions of dollars. In fiscal year 2010, more than 90 percent of the spending in CERP was for projects over $ 1/2 million. At its height in 2009, the authorizations for CERP spending in Afghanistan and Iraq reached $1.5 billion. And--this is the kicker--the military building large infrastructure projects has not shown a measurable impact on the success of our mission.

I have stacks of studies, and I am such a wonk; I have actually read all of these studies. These are just a few of the studies that have been done by inspectors general, by special inspectors general, by the DOD inspector general, by the Wartime Contracting Commission that Senator Webb and I put into place to look at all of the wartime contracting issues.

Even our own troops have studied the expenditure of these funds. I want to quote their conclusion in a recent study that was completed by the troops that are, in fact, fighting this effort in Afghanistan.

Despite hundreds of millions in investments, there is no persuasive evidence that the Commander's Emergency Response Program has fostered improved interdependent relationships between the host government and the population--arguably the key indicator of counterinsurgency success.

I go on, a direct quote:

The effectiveness of CERP in advancing our counterinsurgency objectives in Afghanistan has yet to be operationalized or well documented. The relationship between development assistance and counterinsurgency is being increasingly challenged in the academic and practitioner fields with only unsubstantiated assertions and the occasional anecdote offered as counterargument. There are no clear objectives for a program that funds everything from immediate emergency relief to multi-year, multi-million dollar road projects. The lack of proper incentives and accountability measures have rendered CERP and similar funds an extractive industry for construction companies, nongovernmental organizations, and multiple Afghan government ministries, fueling rather than fighting corruption, community insecurity and insurgent coercion.

Finding and defeating terrorists, fighting the Taliban, securing strategic victories against al-Qaida, training the Afghanistan military and police--all of these things I support. But this amount of money being spent on large infrastructure projects that cannot be sustained we must end.

In an unprecedented fashion, our military--not the State Department--has embarked upon these massive projects. This year, for the first time in this authorization, there is now a new Afghanistan Reconstruction Fund to get around the limits that have been placed on the size of projects in the CERP fund. I call this fund the ``son of CERP.'' It has now been documented that they want to go even larger and even bigger with these large multimillion dollar projects. I cannot stand by as we spend billions on roads, electrical grids, and bridges in Afghanistan, knowing the incredible need we have in this country for exactly that kind of investment.
These projects are not being built in a secure environment. We are paying off people to try to keep the contractors safe. And it has been documented that some of that money has gone right into the hands of our enemy. That must be stopped.

These projects, in many if not most instances, cannot be sustained. I can give a number of examples. But all you would have to do is travel around Iraq and see the empty, crumbling health care centers built with American taxpayer dollars, the water park that is a twisted pile of rubble that is no longer operational, all of the investments that were made in oil production and electricity generation that were blown to bits.

I can give specific examples in Afghanistan. How about hundreds of million of dollars spent on a powerplant--the latest technology: duel fuel--and nobody there knows how to operate it. And they cannot afford to operate it, so it stands by as an empty, hulking potential generator for backup power, while they buy cheaper electricity from a neighboring country.

For the first time, the Department of Defense has requested and received $400 million in authorization in this new Afghanistan Reconstruction Fund. We should limit our military to the small projects that CERP was originally intended for, not produce contracts to major, multinational corporations.

All of these reconstruction funds should be pulled, and my amendment would do just that. We would pull all of this money out with the exception of projects under $50,000. That would be as much as $700 million that we could immediately put directly into the highway trust fund in this country. That is what my amendment does. It will transfer that investment from a nonsecure environment, in areas these projects cannot be sustained, to the very needy cause of infrastructure investment in the United States of America.

Let's do this. Let's stop these large projects that cannot be secured and be sustained. Keep in mind, as much as $700 million would be pulled, and that is a small fraction of what we are spending in Afghanistan. The authorization for next year is more than $100 billion. So anyone who tries to say this will cripple our mission in Afghanistan does not understand the numbers. Of the moneys we are spending in Afghanistan, the vast majority is about personnel: to train the Afghan military, to train the Afghanistan police department, to fight the terrorists who are there, the Taliban, al-Qaida in the areas near Pakistan. All of that remains. A very small percentage of this would be pulled. But it should be pulled, and it should be pulled today. We should take this investment and put it in roads and bridges right here in our country.

I hope this amendment will have success when we look at the appropriations process. I think it is time we stop this funding, and stop it now.

Mr. President, I yield the floor.

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