JULY 09, 2008
The new official in charge of investigating fraud and corruption at a major government agency rocked by huge contract scandals and negligence will do the job only part time, even though it clearly merits full-time attention.
The Pentagon’s new inspector general, responsible for investigating waste, fraud and abuse at the agency with a $600 billion annual budget, will split his time between two demanding jobs according to a major news agency. Gordon Heddell, the current inspector general for the U.S. Department of Labor, will not leave that post. Instead, he will divide his time between the labor and defense departments.
The Pentagon clearly needs a full-time inspector general to investigate the documented waste and abuse in southwest Asian and Middle Eastern deals, which make up a huge portion of its $316 billion contracts. In 2006 a scathing congressional investigative report revealed that the Pentagon lost track of many of the 60,000 private contractors supporting the U.S. military in southwest Asia and the tens of millions of taxpayer dollars lost as a result.
A separate report that year, conducted by the Office of the Special Inspector General for Iraq, detailed how the Pentagon lost thousands of sophisticated weapons earmarked for Iraqi security forces. The weapons included assault rifles, machine guns, rocket-propelled grenade launchers and semiautomatic pistols that could easily be used by terrorists to attack civilians in the United States.
A few months ago a Department of Defense Inspector General audit exposed rampant fraud, corruption and waste in Iraq-related government contracts that have cost U.S. taxpayers billions of dollars since the war began. The probe revealed that the government failed to comply with federal laws and regulations created to prevent fraud when it paid out nearly $8 billion worth of Iraq contracts in the last five years alone, some even lacking basic invoices explaining how tax dollars were spent.
Just last month the veteran military official in charge of the government’s biggest Iraq contract was fired for refusing to pay more than $1 billion in questionable charges from a politically connected company that provides U.S. troops with food, housing and other services. Numerous reports have exposed the same company (Houston-based KBR, once headed by Vice President Dick Cheney) for repeatedly gouging taxpayers through its lucrative Iraq deals. When the U.S. invaded Iraq in March, 2003, the company got a no-bid Pentagon contract worth $7 billion and it has since received hundreds of billions more.
This clearly is a troubled agency that needs a full-time inspector general. At least one veteran lawmaker expressed outrage at the new part-time position, especially since the full-time inspector general was hardly up to the task. Iowa Senator Charles Grassley pointed out that slashing the agency’s top investigator puts tax dollars at greater risk to waste, fraud and abuse.
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