Arnold Fields, a retired Marine Major General and the embattled Special Inspector General for Afghan Reconstruction (SIGAR), has attempted to save his own ass by firing a couple of underlings following harsh criticism last month from Senators after he testified last November before the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Subcommittee on Contracting Oversight, chaired by Claire McCaskill of Missouri.
The top auditor of U.S. contracting in Afghanistan announced Tuesday that he had fired two of his deputies in a shake-up aimed at improving his investigations of waste and corruption.
Arnold Fields, the special inspector general for Afghanistan reconstruction, made the changes in his staff after coming under fire from four senators who wrote President Barack Obama late last year demanding his resignation. Fields said he is looking for replacements to run his audits and investigations divisions after concluding their work needed to be more in-depth.
Fields said the firings were partly in response to the congressional criticism. . “Certainly, I took seriously the concerns brought to my attention by the stakeholders on Capitol Hill,” Fields said in an interview with McClatchy.
The senators have asserted that Fields’ office has done a poor job of scrutinizing how $56 billion in reconstruction money is being spent in the war-torn nation.
Separately, a report by the federal Council of Inspectors General on Integrity and Efficiency concluded his office had problems with hiring, strategic planning and investigative policies.
Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., one of the senators who complained to Obama about Fields, said the ousters were not enough.
“I’m glad that Mr. Fields is finally acknowledging that improvements are needed at SIGAR,” McCaskill said. “But SIGAR’s shortcomings start at the very top and the changes need to happen there, as well. Until there is new leadership, my concerns remain. “
McCaskill, a tough former prosecutor and state auditor is not one to cross swords with where money is concerned. I may disagree with her at times about what action should be taken, but you will never find me questioning her intelligence or her bona fides, and in this case I have her back 100%.
Fields can whine all he wants to about the fact that his office wasn’t fully funded until the summer of 2009, but that doesn’t change the fact that he has had his full funding for a year and a half and made no tangible improvements until November 2010, when he hired a competent deputy.
I also find the timing of the firings to be convenient, to say the least, coinciding as they did with the Washington Post blowing the whistle on crumbling reconstruction projects.
Roads, canals and schools built in Afghanistan as part of a special U.S. military program are crumbling under Afghan stewardship, despite steps imposed over the past year to ensure that reconstruction money is not being wasted, according to government reports and interviews with military and civilian personnel.
U.S. troops in Afghanistan have spent $2 billion over six years on 16,000 humanitarian projects through the Commander’s Emergency Response Program, which gives a battalion-level commander the power to treat aid dollars as ammunition.
A report slated for release this month reveals that CERP projects can quickly slide into neglect after being transferred to Afghan control. The Afghans had problems maintaining about half of the 69 projects reviewed in eastern Laghman province, according to an audit by the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction.
The spending in Afghanistan is part of the $5 billion provided to U.S. military commanders for projects in Iraq and Afghanistan since 2004. The new report is the latest to identify shortcomings and missteps in the program, whose ventures have included the Jadriyah Lake park in Iraq, planned as a water park but now barren two years after a U.S. military inauguration ceremony.
The dilapidated projects in Afghanistan could present a challenge to the U.S. strategy of shifting more responsibility to Afghans. Investing in infrastructure, notes President Obama’s December review of the war, “will give the Afghan government and people the tools to build and sustain a future of stability.”
“Sustainment is one of the biggest issues with our whole strategy,” said a civilian official who shared details from a draft of the report. “The Afghans don’t have the money or capacity to sustain much.” The official spoke on the condition of anonymity because the Defense Department is preparing a response to the audit.
The problems detailed don’t sound like issues of poor stewardship to me.
Roads that wash out and canals that fill with silt within a month are not screwed up because the stewardship of the projects isn’t up to snuff. Those things happen when the engineering and planning wasn’t properly done, initial workmanship was shoddy, or both.
And it’s a holdover from the Bush years. Shoddy workmanship by well-connected contractors in war zones was a hallmark of the previous administration. Remember the new embassy in Iraq? How about the showers that electrocuted soldiers? Or the Baghdad Police College, which had to be abandoned because toilets on higher floors leaked wastewater onto lower floors? Or the $40 million prison that was abandoned? Or the water treatment facility that was abandoned after hundreds of millions were spent?
No, blaming a lack of “stewardship” on the part of Afghanis is nothing but a dodge, an attempt to rationalize to the American taxpayers whose money has been raked into a pile and set alight that it wasn’t the DOD or the Army Corps or any one under color of American authority who f*cked up…it’s all the fault of those backward Afghans.
I call Bullshit.