$30 bln of US war money gone to crooks and wasters

The US wasted at least one dollar out of six on wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, which amounts to about US $30 billion, a bipartisan commission found. The sum may double in future, as foreign governments abandon unsustainable projects funded by the US.

The Commission on Wartime Contracting in Iraq and Afghanistan is to report its sobering findings on Wednesday, but co-chairs Christopher Shays and Michael Thibault made parts of it public on Monday in an op-ed article in the Washington Post.

“Tens of billions of taxpayer dollars have been wasted through poor planning, vague and shifting requirements, inadequate competition, substandard contract management and oversight, lax accountability, weak inter-agency co-ordination, and sub-par performance or outright misconduct by some contractors and federal employees. Both government and contractors need to do better,” they say.

The Pentagon has been increasingly reliant on contractors to wage war over the decades. In Afghanistan and Iraq, on average, there was one private contractor for each troop serving, with the total number of contractors at times exceeding 260,000. Now America “cannot conduct large or prolonged military operations without contractor support.”

The sheer scale of private firms’ operation aggravated by lack of accountability caused a fresh set of problems and has harmed US interests in a number of ways, the authors say.

“Our final report shows that the costs of contracting waste and fraud extend beyond the disservice to taxpayers. The costs include diminishing US military, diplomatic and development efforts; fostering corruption in host countries; and undermining US standing and influence overseas,” they say.

“Poor planning, federal understaffing and over-reliance led to billions of dollars of contracts awarded without effective competition, legions of foreign subcontractors not subject to US laws, private security guards performing tasks that can easily escalate into combat, unprosecuted instances of apparent fraud, and projects that are unlikely to be sustained by the governments of Iraq and Afghanistan,” the authors add.

The potential waste from unfinished or unsustainable projects is a problem, which may equal in scale that of actual waste from poor handling of direct expenditures. Some of the examples of this are $40 million invested in a prison in Iraq which Baghdad did not want and that was never finished, and $300 million poured into a Kabul power plant which the Afghan government has neither the money nor the technical skills to use. The money came from US taxpayers and is likely to simply vanish down the drain.

The commission has prepared a set of recommendations for Congress and the US administration to approve, which they hope will improve the situation.

The Pentagon say they are aware of the problem, but refused to comment on the commission’s findings until the report is published.

"We are well aware of some of the deficiencies over the years in how we have worked contracts," said Marine Corps Colonel David Lapan, a Pentagon spokesman. "We have worked hard over those years to try to correct those deficiencies when we come across them."

"There have been many instances because of wartime needs where a long lengthy competitive bid contract process does not serve the needs of the war-fighters,"
he said. "In many instances it's a matter of saving lives, doing things more quickly because of the nature of conflict."

The Department of Defense has been under increasing scrutiny recently, as the US government seeks ways to reduce the budget deficit. Lately, the Pentagon was targeted for overspending on risky weapon R&D projects, buying aircraft spare parts at inflated prices and paying money to shady Afghan transport companies possibly linked to the Taliban, among other things. The sums allegedly mishandled in all such cases range from tens of millions to billions of dollars.

According to John Glaser, an assistant editor at Antiwar.com, the latest report by the bipartisan commission is just the tip of the iceberg.

“This is just one report in a field of many describing such profligate waste in the American empire,” he said. “There have been previous reports about US aid going directly to fund the insurgency – that is, the Taliban. There is a report out done by the Center for Public Integrity that investigates the Pentagon’s practice of no-bid contracts for defense industry corporations, which has ballooned to a $140 billion problem in 2011. So this kind of waste is just widespread throughout the wars.”

­Former Bush administration official Michael O’Brien says that US politicians are using security contractors in order to mask the real scope of the country’s conflicts. 

“What we are doing is we are augmenting the lack of soldiers with contractors,” he told RT. “It is really nothing more complicated than that…. The American political system, our political leadership, I think, is pulling the wool over the eyes of the American people and cutting corners.”