United States Wasting Billions After a Decade of War in Iraq

Nathan Crites-Herren
The Paw Print

Approaching the 10 year anniversary of the war in Afghanistan, a pair of recently released bipartisan reports investigating the Pentagon and their handling of the Afghanistan war have begun to raise concern throughout the nation. According to the bipartisan Commission on Wartime Contracting, $31 billion to $60 billion that was spent through a 10-year period in the Afghanistan and Iraqi wars was lost to embezzlement, waste and fraud.  The commission’s report also highlighted the fact that the use of no-bid contracts tripled post 9/11, despite repeated promises from the Bush and Obama administrations to reform this controversial practice. The report also traced U.S. funds meant for military projects that ended up in the hands of Taliban militants who in turn have been providing security and safety for U.S. military contracting convoys in the most dangerous parts of Iraq and Afghanistan. The no-bid wartime contracts drastic increase is due to the amplified role that private contractors are playing in war time scenarios, says Charles Tiefer, member of the Wartime Contracting Commission and professor of government contracting at University of Baltimore Law School. “There are as many contractors in the war zone as there are soldiers. But we haven’t adjusted our thinking for it. We haven’t adjusted our structure for it. We need to change a lot to deal with the new way war is conducted with contractors,” said Tiefer. According to the Commission’s report, waste of billions in wartime funds have come in the form of unsustainable building contracts and hiring of local Taliban militia to provide security for contractors. The building contracts are inherently unsustainable due to the lack of responsibility and oversight required by the contracts themselves, after the war is officially over these building contracts will be considered void which will have drastic impacts on the long-term success of these projects that the Pentagon is investing in, says Tiefer.
President Obama“What we buy in Iraq and in Afghanistan are services like dining facilities, like private security for convoys and for static places like forts and camps, like translation services we hire through contractors the thousands of translators we need.  And we don’t have a good system for overseeing these. Basically, we hire the contractor, and to some extent, we don’t find out if the contractor is providing the quality that we need of these services,” added Tiefer.
Early in 2010, president Obama gave a speech denouncing the overspending inherent in no-bid contracts. “Last year, the Government Accountability Office, GAO, looked into 95 major defense projects and found cost overruns that totaled $295 billion.  And this wasteful spending has many sources. It comes from investments in unproven technologies. It comes from a lack of oversight. It comes from influence peddling and indefensible no-bid contracts that have cost American taxpayers billions of dollars.  We will end unnecessary no-bid and cost-plus contracts that run up a bill that is paid by the American people. And we will strengthen oversight to maximize transparency and accountability,” said Obama.
Despite the tough stance the Obama administration took on no-bid contracts little has changed.  According to Sharon Weinberger, journalist and author of an investigative series for the Center for Public Integrity on the no-bid contracts called “Windfalls of War,” the umbrella type contracts being pushed through by the Pentagon have fashioned a monopoly that is controlled by only a handful of companies, many with poor track records.  The umbrella style contract creates a hiding place for these companies to still do business without being held directly responsible for their actions and performance, added Weinberger.
“In this case, there was a subsidiary called Paravant, a subsidiary of Blackwater, that had a training contract in Afghanistan. And it came out during a Senate Armed Services Committee investigation that this was indeed Blackwater.  And the Pentagon probably didn’t know, because this contract to the Blackwater entity was awarded under a large sort of umbrella contract, meaning a company above them. In this case, I believe it was Raytheon had the main contract, and then, below them, there were subcontractors,” said Weinberger.
The bipartisan Commission on Wartime Contracting has called for the Pentagon to increase the percentage of contracts given as well as to end the no-bid umbrella style contracts once and for all. The Pentagon or the Obama Administration has yet to comment on the recommendation.

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