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White House orders review of Afghan reconstruction reviewers

The White House announced Thursday afternoon that it had requested a panel of inspectors general across the government "review" the operations of the congressionally-mandated Office of the Special Inspector General for Afghan Reconstruction.

The announcement gave no explanation other than stating that "strong and effective IG operations in Afghanistan are important" to its efforts to "fight waste, fraud and abuse" in Afghanistan.

A senior administration official said that "there were concerns about SIGAR," as the office is called.

The review, to be conducted by the Council of Inspectors General on Integrity and Efficiency, follows a letter sent to President Obama last December by three Senators -- Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.), Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) and Susan Collins (R-Me.) -- asserting that "SIGAR currently may be unable to perform its mission at a time when the need for aggressive, independent oversight is greater than ever." The Senators described what they said was SIGAR's difficulty in recruiting qualified staff, especially among those leaving its sister organization, the special inspector general for Iraq reconstruction.

The letter -- and the new IG review -- highlight a running competition between the SIGAR and SIGIR, the Office of the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction. The latter organization's mandate is running out along with U.S. reconstruction money in Iraq, and some officials in the Afghan office have worried that their Iraq counterparts are interested in taking over both organizations.

Although SIGIR has been hailed for uncovering massive amounts of waste and fraud in Iraq, SIGAR was slow to get off the ground after it was established in 2008, in part because Congress initially failed to fully fund it.

In addition to issuing quarterly reports, SIGAR has conducted dozens of audits and investigations of the $51.5 billion Congress has appropriated for Afghanistan reconstruction since 2002. More than half of that money has gone to support building the Afghan security forces.

Among other reviews, three SIGAR audits of garrisons built to house the rapidly growing Afghan national army found that the Afghan government was unable to maintain and operate the U.S.-funded facilities. A new Defense contract of $800 million is being awarded to operate the garrisons for the next five years. The administration has asked for an additional $20 billion in reconstruction funds for 2011.

By Karen DeYoung  | July 16, 2010; 10:38 AM ET
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This article seems to be a slapdash follow up on an AP article about a recent peer review of SIGAR by the SAME group mentioned above. I think you guys have your facts mixed up because SIGAR already had the peer review by the Council of Inspectors General on Integrity and Efficiency. In my opinion, as an anti-corruption and internal audit expert who worked in both Iraq with SIGIR and knew the founders of SIGAR, who worked in Iraq first, the AP article and resulting quotes later from Senator Clair McCaskill were overblown and not substantiated by the peer review reports. I wrote a full analysis on the peer review reports on my blog on Corruption in Iraq at FiscalRangers dot com. If the White House did actually request a follow up, you need to clarify that one review was done, and you need someone who knows auditing to review the actual peer reviews to see the AP article overblew the whole situation. Remember, SIGAR actually requested the peer review after only having some operations up for a year, and focusing on results rather than administrative compliance. Read my analysis guys, and revise this report.

Posted by: VJtraveler | July 18, 2010 2:29 PM | Report abuse

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