By LARRY MARGASAK
WASHINGTON – The inspector general investigating fraud, waste and abuse in the $51 billion Afghanistan reconstruction program has received a failing grade from his peers.
The council of government auditors who reviewed the work asked Attorney General Eric Holder to consider suspending or rescinding law enforcement powers of the Afghanistan reconstruction watchdog.
The United States has committed $51 billion to Afghanistan reconstruction since 2001, and plans to raise the amount to $71 billion over the next year.
The review found the Afghanistan reconstruction inspector general did not train investigators in use of firearms and deadly force, did not even have a policy on firearms, and lacked an electronic filing system to collect important information — including data to measure investigators’ performance.
The Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) is led by retired Marine Maj. Gen. Arnold Fields. Fields told the review group, the inspectors’ general Council on Integrity and Efficiency, that he accepted the findings and promised improvements were under way.
That didn’t satisfy Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., who heads a committee that investigates government contracting.
“This report proves that SIGAR’s performance is inept,” she said in a statement. “It is time for a house-cleaning at SIGAR, including new leadership. For the sake of our soldiers and the American taxpayer, time is of the essence.”
Fields’ top deputy, John Brummet, disagreed in an interview with the recommendation to remove the office’s law enforcement powers.
“The areas of noncompliance are administrative,” he said. “There’s no malfeasance. Of course we need one (a firearms policy) but we do not have agents who are armed. We’re waiting to have a policy on firearms use before arming our agents.”
Since May 2009, the office has completed 17 audits and has 14 under way.
The letter to Holder was signed by Richard Moore, who conducted the peer review of the Afghanistan watchdog’s investigative section. Moore, who is the inspector general of the Tennessee Valley Authority, did say that it’s likely Field’s operation will improve in the coming months.
The review looked separately at the investigative work — which involves criminal and civil law enforcement investigations — and the conduct of audits that search for fraud, waste and abuse.
The Afghanistan inspector general’s office did not meet professional standards for investigators, the review said.
The audit operation fared slightly better, getting a passing grade but with deficiencies. Among them: the watchdog was not monitoring the quality of its work, was inconsistent in following its own audit plan and, in about half its reports, failed to clearly state their objective.
Brummet characterized the Afghanistan watchdog office as a “young and growing organization” that is encountering huge obstacles in the war zone.
The State Department only allows the office to have 20 people in Afghanistan, although they’re augmented by people on temporary assignment. The office is negotiating for an additional 12 staff members in Afghanistan.
But regardless of the number, getting around Afghanistan presents massive problems in security and transportation, Brummet said. One of the most difficult tasks is reaching locations outside Kabul to assess the U.S. training of Afghan forces.
Brummet said that in one of his own visits, he needed an escort of five armored vehicles and 30 U.S. soldiers to leave a provincial base.
In another instance, because of transportation bottlenecks, he needed five days to reach, and return from, a meeting that took two hours.
He said of the review, which his office requested: “It’s good we had these things pointed out to us. We began taking actions to remedy deficiencies.”