Monday, April 24, 2006

Pentagon Placing Blame On SIGIR

The Washington Times has discovered that it has not been poor security or thieving contractors who are responsible for the failure of U.S. reconstruction efforts in Iraq.

It is the fault of the meddlesome office of the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction (SIGIR).

Pentagon reconstruction officials are privately complaining that the special inspector general for Iraq is drafting error-prone reports and hampering their work in Iraq, according to defense officials...

(W)ithin the Pentagon and among some defense officials in Iraq, Mr. Bowen's staff is viewed as inaccurate and meddlesome at times, according to interviews with defense officials and e-mails between Army Project and Contracting Office officials in Washington and Baghdad.

Defense officials complain that SIGIR, the acronym for Mr. Bowen's office, has 55 inspectors in Iraq, nearly one for every program manager, forcing the managers to spend increasing amounts of time answering their questions.

Their most serious complaint is that SIGIR's draft reports contain too many errors.

"The quality of the SIGIR reports has been so poor that the government agencies who are the subject of the reports have become the quality assurance for the documents," said a defense official who asked not to be named because he was not authorized to speak for the department. "Countless man-hours are expended correcting the SIGIR's mistakes and inaccuracies."

There is some dispute (as there should be) as to the truthfulness of these Pentagon claims:

James P. Mitchell, chief spokesman for Mr. Bowen (head of SIGIR), rebutted the complaints by saying most draft report findings are returned from the contracting office with the notation "concur."...

(W)e feel we have made a lot of difference in how Iraq reconstruction has been managed in making it more efficient and effective, and we believe we are deterring fraud," (Mitchell) said. Five persons have been arrested on fraud and bribery charges based on Mr. Bowen's investigations. There are still 70 open cases...

The unnamed defense official showed a reporter e-mails between reconstruction officials in Washington and those in Baghdad complaining about SIGIR's methods. This official contended that SIGIR misstated an important statistic to measure progress in Iraq: how many citizens have access to drinking water. The official said SIGIR reported that fewer Iraqis were getting water compared with prewar levels...

Mr. Bowen tried to settle the dispute in a letter to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.

"SIGIR is reviewing newly received data indicating that approximately 20.5 million Iraqis now have access to drinking water," he said in the March 7 letter, a copy of which was obtained by The Washington Times. "As SIGIR noted in its January quarterly, best prewar estimate indicated that 12-13 million Iraqis had access to drinking water in 2003. Thus, it appears that access to drinking water has increased since 2003."

Defense officials say the letter was Mr. Bowen's way of admitting a mistake without expressly saying so. But Mr. Mitchell said there are various numbers from different government groups on potable water and the issue "took a lot of hashing out." He said SIGIR stood by its numbers.

The SIGIR numbers call into question the "success" of the entire American endeavor in Iraq. When such damning testimony comes from the U.S. government itself, it makes it difficult to argue to the contrary.

Of course, the administration can always count on the reliable Washington Times to help them sell road apples.

An intrepid international type who must remain anonymous for operational purposes has helpfully contributed a link to a PDF file from SIGIR detailing the "reconstruction gap."


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