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U.S. Defense Department can't account for billions for Iraq, audit finds

By Josh Levs, CNN
updated 10:14 AM EST, Mon January 30, 2012
Iraqis work on a construction project in Baghdad in October 2003.
Iraqis work on a construction project in Baghdad in October 2003.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • NEW: The U.S. is keeping Iraq out of the loop on some projects, report says
  • NEW: The U.S. Embassy in Iraq disagrees with that complaint
  • The Defense Department can't account for about $2 billion in past spending, report says
  • The department acknowledges a "records management issue"

(CNN) -- The U.S. Defense Department cannot account for about $2 billion it was given to cover Iraq-related expenses and is not providing Iraq with a complete list of U.S.-funded reconstruction projects, according to two new government audits.

The reports come from the office of the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction.

The Iraqi government in 2004 gave the Department of Defense access to about $3 billion to pay bills for certain contracts, and the department can only show what happened to about a third of that, the inspector general says in an audit published Friday.

Although the Department of Defense (DoD) had "internal processes and controls" to track payments, the "bulk of the records are missing," the report says, adding that the department is searching for them.

Other documents are missing as well, including monthly reports documenting expenses, the audit says.

"From July 2004 through December 2007, DoD should have provided 42 monthly reports. However, it can locate only the first four reports."

A letter accompanying the report is signed by Stuart Bowen, the inspector general. The audit was overseen by Glenn Furbish, assistant inspector general for audits.

In a response letter also contained in the report, Defense Under Secretary Mark Easton acknowledges "a records management issue."

The audit says it believes records management is to blame, and "has been an ongoing problem for DoD in Iraq. By all accounts, DoD established good internal processes and controls to account for and report on" the funds it was given after the Coalition Provisional Authority dissolved.

Where the records did exist, they matched other records and contained "good financial documentation supporting individual payments." Also, there is "sufficient evidence" that required monthly reports were sent to the government of Iraq, even though they can't be found, the audit said.

The audit deals with a time when Iraq's government was undergoing a transition. The Coalition Provisional Authority ran the country for 14 months from 2003 to 2004. During that time, the authority awarded numerous contracts. When it dissolved in 2004, the Iraqi government gave the U.S. Defense Department access to the $3 billion to pay bills for contracts the provisional authority had awarded.

The Defense Department letter from Easton -- the department's deputy chief financial officer -- thanks the inspector general's office for "the collaborative effort and professional courtesy" in a series of audits.

Separately, the inspector general's office sent a letter Sunday to the U.S. ambassador to Iraq complaining that the U.S. government is not providing Iraq with a complete list of reconstruction projects.

The U.S. criteria for selecting which projects to report to Iraq -- which include only those valued at $250,000 or more -- is a central part of the problem, the letter says.

The U.S. Embassy says the system is designed to help Iraq "focus its limited resources on sustainment of infrastructure and other large capital projects done through U.S. reconstruction efforts," the report notes.

The inspector general's office argues that the limited list -- which is also "hampered by unreliable data and other data entry problems" -- does not allow Iraq to decide where to focus its resources, and notes that the country might consider some smaller projects more important than those that are reported.

"Without more comprehensive knowledge about reconstruction projects the (Iraqi government) will not be in a position to maximize the use of its resources," the report says.

Billions of dollars in spending are not reported to Iraq under the current system, the report says.

In a response letter, Peter Bodde, assistant chief of mission for the U.S. Embassy in Iraq, says that while the current system is incomplete, "it does capture the vast majority of reconstruction projects and there is no other alternative that captures more."

He also notes that the Iraq reconstruction effort "is now in its very last stages, and all remaining capital projects will be reported through the asset transfer process."

The Office of the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction was created in 2004 to continue oversight of Iraq reconstruction programs.

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