Improved wartime reconstruction urged

The Baltimore Sun

Washington -- Congress should force the State and Defense departments to cooperate in planning and overseeing wartime reconstruction efforts to prevent the kinds of problems that fouled rebuilding efforts in Iraq, according a new investigative report being issued today.

The failure of a comprehensive unified planning effort before the Iraq invasion, and shifting oversight of the reconstruction program after the invasion, hindered the United States' ability to effectively rebuild Iraq, according to a "lessons learned report" by the special inspector general for Iraq reconstruction.

"Those planning programs shouldn't be balkanized, they should be unified," said Stuart W. Bowen Jr., the special inspector general. "There is fairly universal agreement that the United States government was not well poised to execute the kind of relief and reconstruction operation that was presented in Iraq."

The special inspector general's report outlines the long history of problems in planning and overseeing Iraq reconstruction. Bowen said that reform should be modeled on the 1986 Goldwater-Nichols act that forced the Air Force, Army and Navy to better coordinate how they fight wars.

Bowen said he was not advocating specific changes or new positions. Instead, he said, he was simply recommending that Congress find a way to ensure that State, Defense and the U.S. Agency for International Development have "unity of command" when it comes to wartime rebuilding.

While the inspector general has issued a series of audits of specific rebuilding projects outlining waste and failures, the "lessons learned" reports take a broader look to suggest how the overall rebuilding efforts and oversight can be improved. The office of special inspector general was created by Congress in 2004.

Bowen will release the report today at a hearing of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs committee. Both Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman, a Connecticut independent, the committee chairman, and Sen. Susan Collins, a Maine Republican, the ranking Republican, voiced support yesterday for the proposed reform, at least in theory.

"I agree with the [special inspector general] that the State and Defense departments and USAID must work together much more effectively on post-conflict reconstruction and I will examine possible legislative fixes to achieve that goal," Lieberman said.

Collins said that the special inspector general had uncovered "disturbing cases of egregious mismanagement, and in some cases, outright fraud" in Iraq reconstruction support.

Julian E. Barnes writes for the Los Angeles Times.

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