Bipartisan calls for firing of Afghanistan oversight official

Bipartisan calls for firing of Afghanistan oversight official

Sen. Tom Coburn, R-OK, became the second senator to call for the ouster of Arnie Fields, the special inspector general for Afghanistan reconstruction, whose office received a failing grade in a new report on its investigations into the use of billions of dollars of U.S. taxpayer funds.

"The recent findings of the independent review of the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) are appalling and confirm that there is clearly a lack of competent senior leadership in this agency," Coburn said. "Fraud, corruption and wasted resources are placing our soldiers and the mission in Afghanistan in danger.  The president must take swift action and replace the Inspector General and his top staff and immediately appoint an aggressive and independent watchdog who will oversee the billions of dollars the United States is sending there."

Earlier this week, the Council of Inspectors General on Integrity and Efficiency (CIGIE), which serves as an oversight board of all inspectors general in the U.S. government, issued a scathing report on the work of SIGAR, which came after months of congressional angst over what certain lawmakers see as the organization’s shoddy work product.

"In our view, the safeguards and management procedures in this organization did not provide reasonable assurance of conforming with professional standards in the conduct of its investigations from the inception of SIGAR to April 16, 2010," the panel wrote.

Fields responded in a letter that funding delays had prevented him from "building the capacity necessary to address my investigative mandate," and said he had already taken measures to address the panel’s concerns.

Coburn had requested the review, along with Sens. Claire McCaskill, D-MO, and Susan Collins, R-ME. McCaskill called for Fields to be fired on the day the report was issued.

On Tuesday, The Cable caught up with McCaskill and she said she wanted to see the entire SIGAR office reorganized and folded into its sister organization, the Office of the Special Inspector for Iraq Reconstruction (SIGIR).

"We need one inspector general that covers all crisis situations so we can have some accountability and consistency in this mission," she said.

SIGIR head Stuart Bowen has suggested a Special Inspector General for Overseas Contingecy Operations (SIGOCO) as a minor part of its lessons learned project, although his office has not been involved in the current imbroglio regarding SIGAR. 

On a separate track, his office has been shopping around town his idea for a new U.S. government agency that would manage all reconstruction efforts in areas where the military is deployed. He calls it the U.S. Office for Contingency Operations.

"It assumes that over time, contingencies will occur," Bowen told The Cable last November, "It’s sort of like FEMA. FEMA is set up to address disasters, but disasters aren’t continuous. The history of the last 50 years, with 15 contingencies or so, indicates that the next 50 years will probably have more contingency operations."

The SIGAR office Tuesday declined to comment on Coburn’s statement.