Un­de­clared war

The Washington Times Weekly - - National -

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.

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