SHAHEEN CALLS FOR BETTER OVERSIGHT OF AFGHAN RECONSTRUCTION FUNDS

Continues push for increased accountability started in 2010

January 06, 2011

(Washington, D.C.) - As part of her ongoing efforts to increase accountability and seek effective use of taxpayer dollars in Washington, U.S. Senator Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) called for dramatic overhaul of the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR), following new reports of wasted and ineffectual spending in reconstruction.

"As our nation looks for solutions to our rapidly burgeoning national debt, well-meaning but poorly executed programs must be reformed or eliminated.  We cannot afford to spend money on initiatives that are good in theory but have had questionable tangible results," Shaheen said in a letter to President Obama.

Shaheen called for greater accountability over reconstruction dollars a year ago, in a January 2010 letter pressing for a senior civilian coordinator for assistance efforts in Afghanistan. Recent stories in the Washington Post detailed that serious problems remain with the Commanders' Emergency Response Program (CERP), which has received nearly $5 billion for expedited reconstruction projects in Afghanistan and Iraq.

As several audits and the Post stories have detailed, this program has met with questionable success. In Iraq, over $1 million was spent to build a water park in downtown Baghdad, despite insufficient electricity to the area for it to function. Roads built with American taxpayer funds in Afghanistan have turned into pothole-filled traps, where improvised explosive devices can easily be hidden from American soldiers, because a plan was not in place to ensure the Afghan government could maintain them.

As CERP funding winds down in Iraq and increases in Afghanistan, Shaheen said, greater scrutiny of this expensive program is needed.

"As Congress will soon consider Fiscal Year 2011 and Fiscal Year 2012 CERP funding requests of over $1 billion and billions more in overall reconstruction assistance, we will need to be assured that an aggressive and effective audit capability exists to oversee these significant U.S. taxpayer investments," the letter said.  "I am deeply concerned that the Office of the SIGAR - as currently constituted - is not up to the task.  Despite spending nearly $50 million in the Office of the SIGAR, investigations have only led to $6 million in collections as of October 2010."

The full text of the letter to President Obama is below.

January 5, 2011

President Barack H. Obama
White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW
Washington, DC 20500

Dear Mr. President:

I am writing to express serious concerns regarding oversight of U.S. taxpayer-funded assistance projects in Afghanistan and to urge the White House to overhaul and reinvigorate the leadership and capabilities of the Office of the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR). 

Since 2001, the United States has appropriated nearly $52 billion in assistance funds to Afghanistan, and the Congress will soon consider billions more in funding for FY11 and FY12.  As our nation looks for solutions to our rapidly burgeoning national debt, well-meaning but poorly executed programs must be reformed or eliminated.  We cannot afford to spend money on initiatives that are good in theory but have had questionable tangible results.  The U.S. taxpayer needs to be assured that our investments in Afghanistan are not wasted, and an aggressive audit and oversight capability will be necessary to meet this responsibility.

Particularly concerning is oversight over the Commanders' Emergency Response Program (CERP) funding, which over the last six years, has received nearly $5 billion for work in Afghanistan and Iraq.  Congress has repeatedly expressed concerns over the lack of coordination and oversight over CERP funding; however, as the recent January 3rd Washington Post article details, questions over the program's effectiveness, sustainability, and success remain. 

As Congress will soon consider FY11 and FY12 CERP funding requests of over $1 billion and billions more in overall reconstruction assistance, we will need to be assured that an aggressive and effective audit capability exists to oversee these significant U.S. tax-payer investments.  I am deeply concerned that the Office of the SIGAR - as currently constituted - is not up to the task.  Despite spending nearly $50 million in the Office of the SIGAR, investigations have only led to $6 million in collections as of October 2010.  

In July, the Council of Inspectors General on Integrity and Efficiency (CIGIE) issued a blistering, negative report on SIGAR's work to date pointing out critical deficiencies and a serious inability to meet its congressionally-mandated responsibilities.  In the view of the CIGIE, "the safeguards and management procedures in [SIGAR] did not provide reasonable assurance of conforming with professional standards in the conduct of its investigations from the inception of SIGAR." 

The U.S. government needs a SIGAR capable of providing adequate oversight and that is effective in finding waste, fraud and abuse of taxpayer dollars in Afghanistan.  This agency needs a renewed focus and an overhaul of leadership in order to do its job and protect the American taxpayer.  I was pleased to see this week that the Office of the SIGAR has acknowledged the need for reform and made several new staff changes, but I hope this is just the first step in a much more drastic overhaul of the agency. 

In January 2010, I expressed concerns to the Administration regarding U.S. civilian assistance in Afghanistan and called for an empowered senior civilian coordinator to more effectively coordinate, manage, and oversee the complex civilian assistance efforts there.  I was pleased to see the Administration press for a new NATO civilian coordinator, which ultimately led to the appointment of NATO's Senior Civilian Representative in Afghanistan.  I hope the Administration will consider a similar overhaul and reinvigoration of leadership at SIGAR.    

Thank you for your consideration.

Sincerely,

Jeanne Shaheen                                                                            
United States Senator                                                       

CC:

The Honorable Robert Gates, Secretary of Defense
The Honorable Hillary Clinton, Secretary of State                  

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