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McCaskill wields her clout in probe of war contracts

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, June 10, 2009 - The status of U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., as the Obama administration's "hammer'' is underscored once again today, as she chaired a hearing by the Senate's panel on wartime contracting oversight.

Portions can be viewed on Youtube.

(And there was nothing soft in her approach, a break from Rep. Roy Blunt's old moniker, during his House leadership days, as the "velvet hammer." )

Earlier this week, McCaskill was all over cable TV backing up President Barack Obama's announcement that he was committed to "pay as you go'' when it comes to new federal programs. (In short, it calls for outlining how one would pay for a new program -- budget cuts or hikes in fees or taxes -- before implementing it.

Meanwhile, McCaskill is continuing her relatively new role as the Doler of Federal Dollars (once held by Missouri's senior senator, Republican Christopher S. Bond, when the GOP was in power). Within the past 24 hours, her staff has issued releases announcing about $6.8 million in various federal grants.

But today's hearing is more in line with the Trumanesque image that the senator and her allies are fostering. She heads the Ad Hoc Subcommittee on Contracting Oversight, which is under the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs.

Monitoring the contracts, and unveiling possible waste and abuse, echoes the identical task that then-Sen. Harry S Truman, D-Mo., undertook during the early days of World War II.

Today's hearing by McCaskill was probing "whether the mismanagement of contracts with a private security company may have put the U.S. Embassy in Kabul, Afghanistan at risk." The company in question is ArmorGroup North America (now a subsidiary of Wackenhut).

After the hearing, McCaskill and fellow Sen. James Webb, D-Va., issued a joint statement on various concerns about wartime contracting in Iraq and Afghanistan, in the wake of a report issued by the Commission on Wartime Contracting.

Their statement said, in part:

The Commission determined, in part, that the following areas of concern require immediate attention:

The drawdown of U.S. forces in Iraq risks incurring enormous waste, which could range from completion of work that may not need to be done, to poorly controlled handling and disposition of U.S. government property;

There is a need for greater accountability in the use of foreign subcontractors who may not be accountable to U.S. governmental authority;

The effectiveness of contractor support of expanded U.S. operations in Afghanistan is compromised by the failure to extract and apply lessons learned from Iraq , particularly those relating to poor interagency coordination;

The Department of Defense should accelerate its plans to establish a contracting command in Afghanistan ; and

Jo Mannies has been covering Missouri politics and government for almost four decades, much of that time as a reporter and columnist at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. She was the first woman to cover St. Louis City Hall, was the newspaper’s second woman sportswriter in its history, and spent four years in the Post-Dispatch Washington Bureau. She joined the St. Louis Beacon in 2009. She has won several local, regional and national awards, and has covered every president since Jimmy Carter. She scared fellow first-graders in the late 1950s when she showed them how close Alaska was to Russia and met Richard M. Nixon when she was in high school. She graduated from Valparaiso University in northwest Indiana, and was the daughter of a high school basketball coach. She is married and has two grown children, both lawyers. She’s a history and movie buff, cultivates a massive flower garden, and bakes banana bread regularly for her colleagues.