The Cable

McCaskill: The Afghan oversight office is rudderless

It’s been almost one year since the Office of the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) has had a permanent leader …  and Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-MO) is not happy about it. SIGAR Arnie Fields resigned in January following over a year of bipartisan congressional criticism of his stewardship of the oversight office, which ...

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It’s been almost one year since the Office of the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) has had a permanent leader …  and Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-MO) is not happy about it.

SIGAR Arnie Fields resigned in January following over a year of bipartisan congressional criticism of his stewardship of the oversight office, which is responsible for finding waste, fraud, and abuse in the tens of billions of U.S. taxpayer dollars being spent to build Afghanistan. On Aug. 4, acting Special Inspector General Herbert Richardson, Fields’s replacement, stepped down after only six months on the job, leaving that troubled office without a leader for the second time this year.

Now, three months later, there are no signs the White House is ready to name a new SIGAR. McCaskiill, who has been leading the drive to improve the office along with Sens. Tom Coburn (R-OK) and Susan Collins (R-ME), told The Cable in an interview on Tuesday that the vacancy is troubling and unacceptable.

"I am pushing as hard as I can to get a replacement named," McCaskill said. "Obviously I was very involved in getting General Fields out. I thought the interim [Richardson] was doing much better. I think it’s unfortunate that he’s gone and we need to get someone else in there."

McCaskill said that she asked the White House for an update on the status of a replacement late last month, and was led to believe a nomination was in the works. But none has materialized. So what’s the reason for the inaction?

"I haven’t gotten a good answer yet [from the White House]," McCaskill said.

A senior GOP senate aide told The Cable that senate staffs were informed a selection had been made but then that person turned down the job and now the administration is back to square one in looking for a candidate.

McCaskill added that while the auditing at SIGAR continues, the ongoing confusion atop the organization speaks to the need for a new, permanent special inspector general for all overseas contingency operations — a proposal known as the Office of the Special Inspector General for Overseas Contingency Operations (SIGOCO), which was recommended by the Wartime Contracting Commission.

McCaskill said there is a need for a top oversight official who is "capable of going and looking wherever the U.S. military is operative."

The SIGOCO idea was first devised by Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction (SIGIR) Stuart Bowen, who has been embroiled in a fight with the State Department over that agency’s blocking of SIGIR inspectors from assessing the State’s multi-billion dollar Iraqi police training program.

"SIGIR is perfectly free … to audit the reconstruction activities in Iraq. They are not free to audit the base element of the State Department. That is within the jurisdiction of three other entities," Under Secretary of State for Management Patrick Kennedy told the Wartime Contracting Commission in a hearing last month.

Today, Newsweek reported that Bowen believes the Iraqi Army is not fully prepared to take over security in Iraq as U.S. forces withdraw this year.

"As we pull out of Iraq, the Iraqis will have a difficult time replacing the U.S. role in intelligence, logistics, and air defense," Bowen said. "Whether they can sustain themselves if called upon for significant field operations is a big question mark."

 Twitter: @joshrogin

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