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McCaskill seeks to overhaul wartime contracting

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, March 1, 2012 - WASHINGTON – Responding to reports of widespread waste and fraud in contracting in Iraq and Afghanistan, Sens. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., and Jim Webb, D-Va., introduced a far-reaching bill Thursday to overhaul how the government handles and audits such contracting.

The legislation, the Comprehensive Contingency Contracting Reform Act of 2012, would implement some of last summer’s recommendations of the Commission on Wartime Contracting in Iraq and Afghanistan, which the two senators had helped establish in 2007.

In August, the commission -- modeled in part on the Truman Committee that investigated wasteful World War II spending -- issued a report estimating that contracting waste and fraud amounted to at least $31 billion, and perhaps as much as $60 billion, during the U.S. military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. The report blamed the waste on ill-conceived projects, lax planning and oversight by the government, and weak contractor work.

The bill aims to improve contracting practices and improve accountability in contracting by bolstering oversight, improving management, widening planning rules and reforming contracting practices during military contingency operations overseas. It would also require the government to explain how it will pay for such operations and require more transparency and competition in the contracting process.

“When Jim [Webb] and I got here, nobody was paying attention to the billions of taxpayer dollars being wasted in Iraq and Afghanistan,” McCaskill said in a statement. “But with the roadmap provided by the commission report, we can change the way our government contracts during wartime, and make sure these failures are never repeated.”

Webb, a former secretary of the Navy and assistant secretary of defense, said the legislation “recognizes the necessity to improve government management and accountability in the contracting process that resulted in unacceptable costs, excessive waste, and substandard performance in far too many areas.”

Webb said his main goal is to “streamline governmental processes” on such contracting, not only at the Defense Department, but also at the State Department and the U.S. Agency for International Development, “to improve the efficiencies” at each level.

Before private security contractors are used, the bill would require U.S. military commanders, consulting with top Pentagon and State Department officials, to conduct a “risk analysis” of such contracting. Any contractor who is indicted for fraudulent activities in civil or criminal cases would be automatically suspended.

Both McCaskill and Webb are members of the Senate Armed Services Committee, and they plan to seek a vote on their bill this year. McCaskill, who chairs the subcommittee on contracting oversight, said she also plans to hold hearings on the legislation.

Resolution calls on Iran to hold open elections

Also this week, McCaskill joined with four other senators to sponsor a bipartisan resolution calling on Iran’s government to hold free and fair elections and to respect universal human rights.

Iran’s parliamentary elections, which will be held Friday, are the first national elections since June 2009 -– an election that was widely criticized for government manipulation because so many candidates were disqualified for inadequate reasons.

The resolution, including Sens. John Hoeven, R-N.D., Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., Joe Lieberman, I-Conn., and Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., calls for democratic elections that meet international standards and allow international election monitors.

The resolution also calls for an end to “arbitrary detention, torture and other forms of harassment against media professionals, human rights defenders and activists, and opposition figures,” as well as an internet that is “free and open.”

Robert Koenig Beacon Washington correspondent

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