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New report rips oversight of Afghan war

The government investigators and auditors who are supposed to be looking for waste, fraud, and abuse of American taxpayer dollars in Afghanistan received a failing grade in a new government investigation of their own activities. The scathing report on the work of the Office of the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) comes after ...

The government investigators and auditors who are supposed to be looking for waste, fraud, and abuse of American taxpayer dollars in Afghanistan received a failing grade in a new government investigation of their own activities.

The scathing report on the work of the Office of the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) comes after months of congressional angst over what certain lawmakers see as the organization's shoddy work product and failure to fulfill its obligations to oversee the billions of dollars being appropriated each year for Afghanistan reconstruction.

"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," wrote 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.

The government investigators and auditors who are supposed to be looking for waste, fraud, and abuse of American taxpayer dollars in Afghanistan received a failing grade in a new government investigation of their own activities.

The scathing report on the work of the Office of the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) comes after months of congressional angst over what certain lawmakers see as the organization’s shoddy work product and failure to fulfill its obligations to oversee the billions of dollars being appropriated each year for Afghanistan reconstruction.

"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," wrote 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.

The report now goes to Attorney General Eric Holder, who will determine whether SIGAR will be stripped of its investigative powers, such as the power to make arrests, issue warrants, carry firearms, etc.

The oversight panel cited 10 major ways in which SIGAR, led by Special Inspector General Arnie Fields, was not conducting investigations in the proper way.

"In sum and substance, there were nearly no official investigative policies and procedures in place prior to March 2010 and, therefore, no investigative activities in compliance therewith," the report stated, adding that what policies were in writing were copied directly from the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction (SIGIR), SIGAR’s older (and apparently more competent) sister organization.

According to the report, SIGAR’s investigators also didn’t have the proper training and there were no clear quality standards for investigations,

Fields responded in a letter that the newness of his office and delays in funding were to blame for the poor performance.

"It wasn’t until the summer of 2009 that SIGAR received adequate funding to begin fully staffing its directorates. Consequently, I have been behind the curve in building the capacity necessary to address my investigative mandate," he wrote, claiming he was already addressing the problems.

In a concurrent but separate review of SIGAR’s auditing work, the oversight group gave SIGAR the rating of "pass with deficiencies," and criticized the quality assurance, planning, record keeping, and reporting of SIGAR’s audit directorate, run by the assistant inspector general in charge of audits, John Brummet.

Criticisms of SIGAR’s auditing are not new. A memo circulated by Hill staffers earlier this year outlined the shortcomings of several of the organization’s audits. And Sens. Claire McCaskill, D-MO, Tom Coburn, R-OK, and Susan Collins, R-ME, wrote a letter last December calling for someone to look into SIGAR’s operations.

Fields himself asked CIGIE to perform the peer review in this February letter, but most insiders believe he was just trying to head off congressional concerns. Now, some in Congress are calling for his ouster.

"This report proves that SIGAR’s performance is inept. It is time for a house-cleaning at SIGAR, including new leadership," McCaskill said in a statement.  "For the sake of our soldiers and the American taxpayer, time is of the essence."

The United States has committed $51 billion to Afghanistan reconstruction since 2001, and plans to raise the amount to $71 billion over the next year, according to the AP.

Josh Rogin covers national security and foreign policy and writes the daily Web column The Cable. His column appears bi-weekly in the print edition of The Washington Post. He can be reached for comments or tips at josh.rogin@foreignpolicy.com.

Previously, Josh covered defense and foreign policy as a staff writer for Congressional Quarterly, writing extensively on Iraq, Afghanistan, Guantánamo Bay, U.S.-Asia relations, defense budgeting and appropriations, and the defense lobbying and contracting industries. Prior to that, he covered military modernization, cyber warfare, space, and missile defense for Federal Computer Week Magazine. He has also served as Pentagon Staff Reporter for the Asahi Shimbun, Japan's leading daily newspaper, in its Washington, D.C., bureau, where he reported on U.S.-Japan relations, Chinese military modernization, the North Korean nuclear crisis, and more.

A graduate of George Washington University's Elliott School of International Affairs, Josh lived in Yokohama, Japan, and studied at Tokyo's Sophia University. He speaks conversational Japanese and has reported from the region. He has also worked at the House International Relations Committee, the Embassy of Japan, and the Brookings Institution.

Josh's reporting has been featured on CNN, MSNBC, C-Span, CBS, ABC, NPR, WTOP, and several other outlets. He was a 2008-2009 National Press Foundation's Paul Miller Washington Reporting Fellow, 2009 military reporting fellow with the Knight Center for Specialized Journalism and the 2011 recipient of the InterAction Award for Excellence in International Reporting. He hails from Philadelphia and lives in Washington, D.C. Twitter: @joshrogin

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