There is a battle goingonbetween Stuart Bowen, the special inspector general for Iraq reconstruction (SIGIR), and bureaucrats responsible for thousands of rebuilding contracts in Iraq.
But it’s an undeclared war. As is his mission, Mr. Bowen simply puts out a series of reports detailing failings inthereconstruction effort. The bureaucrats, who don’t dare publicly speak against an IG who has wide support in Congress, fire back byissuingastreamofpressreleases recountingaccomplishmentsinIraq.
Privately, Bush administration officials tell us that Mr. Bowen’s quarterly reports and audits are too negative and that he glosses over what they have been able to achieve in the face of an extremist enemy who will kill anyone, at any time, to stop a project.
A good example of the battle unfoldedearlier this month.Mr.Bowen went to Capitol Hill to testify on his mostrecent reports: oneaquarterly report that described rampant corruption on the part of Iraqis; the other a history of the missteps and wasted time and money in developing contracting procedures in Iraq.
Here is Mr.Bowen’sdescriptionof aprojecttobuildtheBasraChildren’s Hospital. The contractor is Bechtel and the government sponsor is the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID). The hospital was supposed to be completed by Dec. 31 last year.
“For a variety of reasons, including an increasingly hostile security environment, the project fell well behindschedule.OnMarch26,2006, Bechtel informed USAID that the hospitalcouldnotbecompleted until July 31, 2007. In addition, the contractor reported that its estimated cost-to-completehadincreasedby96 percent, and that final costs were projected to be more than 200 percent above the initial estimated cost forconstruction.In its review,SIGIR identifiedmanyreportinganomalies, including weak accounting systems andpoor cost-projection processes.”
While Mr. Bowen’s office was issuing reports leading up to his testimony, the Pentagon’s Iraq Project and Contracting Office was sending out press releases telling another story.
An Aug. 2 release told of completion of the Pave Attia water canal project in Taji. Completed July 24, the newly paved canal “improves flow and quality of drinking and irrigation water for 50,000 residents and farmers.”
Two days later, another press release told of the completion of the Mahalla water network in Sadr City, Baghdad. “The completed project brings potable water to approximately 60,000 residents of the Sadr City area.”
The statement also referred reporters to an opinion piece by Jim Crum,thecontractingofficedirector, sent to major publications. Its title: “Untold Good News from Iraq.”
We should point out that Mr. Bowen’s latest report does include praise for the reconstruction effort. Little of those comments, however, make it into the press or the congressional debate.