U.S. can’t produce $1 billion of fuel receipts in Iraq

U.S. can’t produce $1 billion of fuel receipts in Iraq

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers cannot produce about $1 billion of receipts for fuel and other supplies it bought in Iraq using Iraqi money, a government investigation has found.

The total amount of funds unaccounted for has now reached a staggering $7 billion, officials say — and they warn that the Iraqi government is likely to demand at least some of that money back.

The United States has been managing billions of dollars of Iraqi money through the U.N.-created Development Fund for Iraq (DFI) since 2003, money that was the result of Iraqi oil and gas sales or was left over from the "oil-for-food" program. The Army Corps of Engineers has been spending that money on energy and infrastructure programs in Iraq, but its recordkeeping was so poor that the Corps cannot prove it actually received goods for about $1 billion of the money it spent, according to the report, which was released Friday by the office of the Special Inspector General for Iraqi Reconstruction (SIGIR).

SIGIR reviewed $1.1 billion of DFI-related transactions by the Corps and found that a key document, the receiving report — which documents that the goods or services were actually delivered to the intended recipients — was missing for 95 percent of the transactions.

"Missing receiving reports involved commodities vulnerable to fraud and theft, such as fuel, televisions, and vehicles. SIGIR has not concluded that fraud or theft occurred, but the absence of receiving reports raises questions," the report stated. "Instead of using the required receiving reports to document fuel deliveries in Iraq, USACE officials told us that they maintained a fuel delivery log book. However, the log book is missing. In the absence of receiving reports and the fuel delivery log book, USACE has no evidence that shows whether fuel products paid for with DFI funds were received."

The Corps also didn’t have enough trucks with meters to determine how much fuel was being delivered to more than 100 sites around Iraq. Nor has the Corps  completed the required financial audits, so it’s impossible to determine the status of all the DFI contracts, SIGIR says.

"Without these audits, USACE cannot close out these contracts and task orders and assess whether the contractor owes the U.S. money, whether the U.S. owes the contractor money, and ultimately, whether the U.S. needs to return unused DFI funds to the [government of Iraq]," the report said.

In an interview with The Cable, Deputy Inspector General Glen Furbish said that even though there’s no evidence of fraud, there’s a good chance the Iraqi government will try to seek some or all of this money from the U.S. government.

"Our inability to show that goods were received will always leave that question in the minds of the Iraqis as to whether we used their money appropriately," Furbish said. "We’ve sensed for some time that there is probably going to be an effort to make a claim against the U.S. for the unaccountable funds and this will probably be a piece of that ultimate claim."

This latest report is only the latest in a series of reports that delve into how the DFI money was used, and the total amount of money not properly accounted for is around $7 billion, Furbish said. SIGIR will release a final report on the U.S. government’s handling of the DFI funds in January.

"This primarily means that our administrative handling of this money was not good," he said. "[The Iraqi government] may assert that our failure to keep records creates a claim for them."

The SIGIR office also released today a final report on the State Department’s handling of Quick Response Funds (QRF), money that was handed out in Iraq, often by Provincial Reconstruction Teams, for projects that may or may not have ever materialized.

The State Department and USAID managed about $258 million in QRF funds but the results of the projects funded are unclear.

"From the available records, we could generally determine how funds were intended to be used, but we could not assess whether all of the goods and services were actually purchased, received, or transferred to beneficiaries," the report stated.

Furbish said that for many of these projects, the money was handed out but nobody ever followed up on the programs, largely because it was too dangerous to check on small reconstruction projects in the middle of the war.

"They have always maintained that we are asking a bit too much for a wartime program, in terms of us being bean counters and asking if people got something for their money," Furbish said. "Call us bean counters if you want, but if you can’t show us what you spent the money on, I think you’ve got a control weakness."

State has made improvements in its handling of the QRF funds going forward, but department officials told SIGIR that it’s impossible to go back and figure out what happened to the money spent in the early years on these projects, Furbish said.

"Cash on the battlefield is problematic in so many ways. It probably shouldn’t even be allowed," he said.