The Cable

Obama Senate ally ‘frustrated’ with White House inaction on Afghanistan oversight

A Democratic senator with strong ties to President Barack Obama is calling out the White House for failing to deal with a huge problem regarding oversight of the war in Afghanistan. Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-MO), an early supporter of Obama’s presidential run, has been calling for the sacking of the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan ...

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A Democratic senator with strong ties to President Barack Obama is calling out the White House for failing to deal with a huge problem regarding oversight of the war in Afghanistan.

Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-MO), an early supporter of Obama’s presidential run, has been calling for the sacking of the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) Arnie Fields since the summer of 2009. But in an interview with The Cable, she says she can’t get any answers from the White House on the issue and she’s not at all happy about it.

"I’m frustrated. It’s not going as quickly as it should. I’ve been trying to move this person out of the position for over a year now," McCaskill said. "The White House needs to act. That’s where the buck stops. It is way past the time when they should have removed him."

Fields has come under heavy criticism for running an oversight office that is failing to effectively monitor the allocation of billions of dollars in U.S. taxpayer funds that are being invested in infrastructure in Afghanistan. A memo circulated by Hill staffers earlier this year outlined the shortcomings of several of the organization’s audits. McCaskill, along with Sens. Tom Coburn (R-OK) and Susan Collins (R-ME) wrote a letter last December calling for someone to look into SIGAR’s operations.

Then, a July report by the Council of Inspectors General on Integrity and Efficiency (CIGIE), which oversees the overseers, recommended that the Justice Department take away SIGAR’s ability to carry firearms and make arrests because they lacked basic standards of investigation and management.

In reciting the case against Fields, McCaskill referred directly to the CIGIE report. "Forget about the politicians, forget about the elected officials, the independent council of auditors looked at their office and said that it is so bad that they shouldn’t even be allowed to do law enforcement activities. Well, that’s a problem," McCaskill said.

But despite numerous public and private pleas, McCaskill has been unable to convince the White House to move faster on replacing Fields. "I don’t think the administration is reacting appropriately or aggressively as it should," McCaskill said. "The consequence is that there’s important work that’s not getting done well. We should have our very strongest [inspector general] overlooking Afghanistan right now."

When Obama was running for office, McCaskill was one of his campaign’s leading champions, and was even rumored to be on Obama’s short list for vice president. Back then, Obama was extremely appreciative.

"There are very few people who are closer to me, who I have relied on more for counsel or advice," Obama said about McCaskill in June 2008. "Should I be successful, [McCaskill] will be somebody who has the utmost access to the Obama administration."

But that was then, and this is now. McCaskill said she has met with White House staff several times on the matter but the only thing they’ve told her is "We’re working on it."

A GOP Senate aide close to the issue told The Cable that recently, the work product coming out of the SIGAR office has been getting slightly better, but the organization has recovered only about $2 million in misspent funds, despite having spent about $30 million on its activities.

"That’s a pretty poor return on investment," the aide said.

The United States has committed $51 billion to Afghanistan reconstruction since 2001, and that endowment will reach $71 billion by the end of 2011, according to the AP.

 Twitter: @joshrogin

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