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New government commission blasts Iraq waste, fraud

  • Story Highlights
  • Hearings will focus on billions of taxpayer dollars misspent in Iraq, Afghanistan
  • Commission's goal is to ensure mistakes are not repeated in Afghanistan
  • Group will refer any violation or potential violation of law to the attorney general
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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Citing the need to restore public trust in an inefficient and allegedly corrupt military procurement process, a new government commission Monday officially began hearings to account for billions of taxpayer dollars misspent in Iraq and Afghanistan.

"There was rampant fraud, waste and abuse following the invasion of Iraq," Sen. Jim Webb, D-Virginia, said.

"There was rampant fraud, waste and abuse following the invasion of Iraq," Sen. Jim Webb, D-Virginia, said.

"Every interested American knows that there was rampant fraud, waste and abuse following the invasion of Iraq," Sen. Jim Webb, D-Virginia, said at the opening hearing of the Commission on Wartime Contracting in Iraq and Afghanistan.

"They all know it, and they want us to demonstrate that we're willing to do something about it, not simply in terms of process, but in terms of accountability."

The seven-member commission begins its work as the U.S. military prepares to cut troop levels in Iraq, but strengthen its presence in Afghanistan, where Taliban and al Qaeda elements have made gains in recent years.

A key commission goal is to ensure that the mistakes and corruption that have plagued the Iraqi reconstruction effort are not repeated as the primary focus potentially shifts back to Afghanistan.

"The record ... is littered with too many examples of buildings unfit for use, projects that can't be maintained at original scope and cost estimates, weapons and money gone missing, and outright fraud on the U.S. taxpayer," commission co-chair Mike Thibault said.

In a symbolic gesture, the commission's opening session was held in the same Senate hearing room used by the Truman Committee, believed to have recovered billions of taxpayer dollars by investigating military profiteering during World War II.

Like the Truman Committee, led by then-Sen. Harry Truman, "the Commission on Wartime Contracting's reason for existence is to ensure that the government pays fair and reasonable prices for the goods and services that it buys to support our war fighters," Thibault said.

"Harry Truman has been rolling in his grave for the last five years," Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Missouri, said. "He, in fact, has been in constant motion in his grave. He is astounded that we allowed this problem to get this far out of control. This has been a massive failure. We have failed our military, and we have failed the American people."

McCaskill told the commission it was "going to need a two-by-four" to begin fixing the situation.

The Commission on Wartime Contracting, according to its Web site, is empowered to refer any violation or potential violation of law it identifies to the attorney general. It is required to provide two annual reports to Congress: an interim report due May 1, 2009, and a final report due by August 2010.

The commission's opening hearing highlighted the release of a new report on abuses in the Iraq reconstruction effort.

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