U.S. wasted billions in wartime contracts

Poor planning, mismanagement, and lack of oversight were the chief reasons cited by the U.S. Commission on Wartime Contracting on why the U.S. has lost as much as $60 billion in contract waste and fraud during the course of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.

According to the Commission’s final report, the wasteful contracts have already cost American taxpayers more than $31 billion, although much of the wasteful spending could have been prevented. This means between 16 percent to 31 percent of the nearly $200 billion spent on private contracts since 2002 have been squandered on poorly-conceived, large-scale, unsustainable projects (such as the $300 million Nassirirya Water Treatment Plant in Iraq or the $300 million Tarakhil Power Plant in Afghanistan) and corrupt contractors who cheat the system.

“We have found billions of dollars of waste stemming from a variety of shortcomings – poor decision making, vague contract requirements, lack of adequately trained federal oversight people in the field, duplicative or unnecessary work, failure to revise or recompete contracts, unsustainable projects, inadequate business processes among contractors, and delayed audits,” said Commission Co-Chair Michael Thibault, former deputy director of the Defense Contract Audit Agency.

The immense scale and long duration of two concurrent wars have overstretched the U.S. military, which led to an unprecedented reliance on private contractors to provide support services for military operations and reconstruction projects. At times outnumbering U.S. military personnel on the ground in Iraq and Afghanistan, more than 260,000 private contractors were hired in 2010 to provide security, construction, maintenance and repair, logistics support, facility rental, and many other services to support U.S. operations in the two countries.

“The Commission finds the government is over-relying on contractors. Even if you think having more than 260,000 contractor employees at work in Iraq and Afghanistan, at times outnumbering the military they support, is reasonable, there are still problems. Some contractors have been performing tasks that only federal employees should perform, while others are doing work that is permissible but still too risky or inappropriate for contractors. And overall, there is simply too much contracting for the federal contract-management and oversight workforce to handle. From every angle, that’s over-reliance,” said Commission Co-Chair Christopher Shays, a former Congressman from Connecticut.

Click here to download the executive summary of the 15 reform measures recommended by the Commission.

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