The Senate tonight approved legislation cosponsored by Senator Bernie Sanders that would establish an independent, bipartisan commission to investigate U.S. wartime contracting abuses in Iraq and Afghanistan.
"The evidence is clear that taxpayers are being ripped off for billions of dollars in no-bid contracts awarded to Halliburton and other firms," Sanders said. "Astonishingly, we know that $9 billion spent on private contractors in Iraq is missing. We owe it to taxpayers to take a long, hard look at the conduct of contractors."
Added to a Department of Defense policy bill that the Senate is considering, the amendment creating a Commission on Wartime Contracting would address rampant corruption and other problems with private companies operating in Iraq.
The measure also would expand the authority of a special inspector general to monitor all wartime contracts in Afghanistan as well as Iraq. In Iraq alone, it was the special inspector general who discovered that $9 billion in reconstruction funds simply had vanished.
Halliburton, the gargantuan defense contractor that Vice President Cheney once headed, is an example of the private companies that have been awarded huge, no-bid contracts in Iraq. "More than ever before in our history, the Bush administration has doled out millions and millions of dollars worth of no-bid contracts to Halliburton and other private firms operating in war zones," Sanders said.
The Commission is also would identify new safeguards for companies that provide private security guards, such as the security contractor Blackwater, which is under investigation in the shooting deaths of 11 Iraqis earlier this month and over a 2004 ambush in which four of its staff were killed. "I fail to understand how the Secret Service is good enough to protect the president, but we need to use contractors to protect our diplomats in Iraq," said Sanders. "I fail to understand how the Secret Service is good enough to protect the president, but we need to use contractors to protect our diplomats in Iraq."
The legislation to create the commission - originally sponsored by Senators Jim Webb, Claire McCaskill, Sanders and other freshmen senators - was inspired by the World War II-era work of the "Truman Committee." Named for then-Senator Harry S Truman, the committee conducted hundreds of hearings and investigations into government waste and is credited with saving taxpayers more than $15 billion in 1943 dollars.
In the current conflict in Iraq, which already has dragged on for longer than World War II, the United States to date has spent $610 billion on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Some 160,000 contractors work in Iraq today, 20,000-30,000 working on private security. The commission would investigate waste, fraud, abuse and mismanagement of the contracts and contractors.
The legislation was supported of taxpayer watchdog groups, such as the Project on Government Oversight, Taxpayers for Common Sense, the Government Accountability Project, OMB Watch, and Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America.