Growing number of contractors in Afghanistan raises worries mistakes of Iraq will be repeated

By Richard Lardner, AP
Thursday, December 17, 2009

Reliance on contractors sparks oversight concerns

WASHINGTON — The growing number of contractors in Afghanistan is outpacing the ability to oversee them, raising concerns that the waste and fraud that marred the U.S. mission in Iraq will be repeated, lawmakers said Thursday.

Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., said there are already more than 100,000 Defense Department contractors in Afghanistan and that figure could grow to 160,000 to support the surge of U.S. troops ordered by President Barack Obama earlier this month.

But McCaskill, who heads the Senate contracting oversight subcommittee, said the evidence suggests that the hard lessons learned in Iraq are not being applied in Afghanistan.

The Defense Contract Audit Agency has examined $5.9 billion in Afghanistan troop support contracts and determined that $950 million of the expenses were unreasonable or lacked adequate documentation to support them, according to a memo prepared by McCaskill’s staff and distributed to subcommittee members.

“That’s nearly one of every six dollars,” she said.

There are also too few contract managers and oversight personnel overseeing spending in Afghanistan by the Defense Department and other U.S. agencies, according to the staff memo. The hiring budget for the defense audit agency has remained “relatively stagnant” as spending in Afghanistan increases.

Overall, the Defense and State Departments and the U.S. Agency for International Development have spent more than $23 billion on contracts in Afghanistan since 2002, the subcommittee said.

Sen. Paul Kirk, D-Mass., questioned how U.S. taxpayers can be sure their money will be used wisely in Afghanistan, where there is a “culture of corruption.”

Jeffrey Parsons, executive director of the Army Contracting Command, told the subcommittee the command is intensifying the training of contracting officers being sent to Afghanistan so they can more readily identify “bad business practices.”

Parsons also said the Army Criminal Investigation Command is stepping up its presence in Afghanistan.

Daniel Feldman, the State Department’s deputy special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, said the department is also boosting the number of financial analysts and contracting personnel to keep closer track of contractor performance.

The U.S. is pressing Afghan President Hamid Karzai to take more aggressive steps to put anti-corruption measures in place, Feldman added.

McCaskill and two other subcommittee members, Republicans Susan Collins of Maine and Tom Coburn of Oklahoma, last week criticized the special inspector general overseeing Afghanistan’s reconstruction for failing to hire enough staff and issuing too few audits and investigative reports.

In a Dec. 8 letter to Obama, they urged the president to review the office’s operations and make any necessary improvements.

Arnold Fields, the special inspector general, defended the office’s record. The organization was established just 18 months ago and in that time he has formed an experienced team that is helping to improve the reconstruction effort in Afghanistan, Fields said.


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