- - Wednesday, August 31, 2011

PENTAGON

Billions in waste, fraud reported in war spending

The U.S. has lost billions of dollars to waste and fraud in Iraq and Afghanistan and stands to repeat that in future wars without big changes in how the government awards and manages contracts for battlefield support and reconstruction projects, independent investigators said Wednesday.

The Wartime Contracting Commission urged Congress and the Obama administration to quickly put into place its recommendations to overhaul the contracting process and increase accountability. The commission even suggested that the joint House-Senate debt reduction committee take a close look at the proposals.

“What you’re asking for is more of the same,” said Dov Zakheim, a commission member and the Pentagon comptroller during President George W. Bush’s first term. “More waste. More fraud. More abuse.”

The bipartisan commission, created by Congress in 2008, estimated that at least $31 billion and as much as $60 billion has been lost in Iraq and Afghanistan over the past decade as a result of lax oversight of contractors, poor planning, inadequate competition and corruption. “I personally believe that the number is much, much closer to $60 billion,” Mr. Zakheim said.

Yet new legislation incorporating the changes could prove difficult with Republicans and Democrats, who are divided over the best way to reduce the deficit.

SENATE

Brown undergoes Guard training in Afghanistan

Sen. Scott Brown, Massachusetts Republican, is winding up a weeklong training session in Afghanistan as a member of the Massachusetts Army National Guard.

Brown spokesman Marcie Kinzel said Mr. Brown will return Thursday after spending most of his time in Kabul, where he lived, ate and trained with other troops.

The senator is a lieutenant colonel in the Judge Advocate General’s Corps. He asked to conduct his annual training overseas, and it was his first time serving in a combat zone.

Mr. Brown serves on the Senate Armed Services, Homeland Security, and Veterans Affairs committees. He is up for re-election this year. Democrats hope to regain the Senate seat long held by Edward M. Kennedy, but have yet to field a major candidate. Speculation has centered on consumer advocate Elizabeth Warren.

FEC

OK expected for Giffords to use funds for security

The Federal Election Commission is expected to rule Thursday that Rep. Gabrielle Giffords’ campaign can use donations to make $2,200 worth of security improvements to her family’s Houston home.

The Arizona Democrat was shot in January while meeting with constituents in Tucson. She is undergoing outpatient therapy in Houston.

The U.S. Capitol Police recommended better lighting, locks and an alarm button.

In response to a request from Ms. Giffords’ campaign, the FEC’s staff prepared a draft advisory opinion that says it’s OK to use campaign donations for the improvements because the extra security is needed as a result of her work as a member of Congress. The commission still must vote on the matter.

WISCONSIN

Republican Fitzgerald expects Senate run

MADISON | Wisconsin State Assembly Speaker Jeff Fitzgerald is planning a U.S. Senate run but hasn’t said when he will make an announcement, according to John Jagler, a spokesman for the Republican.

Mr. Jagler said Tuesday that he fully expects Mr. Fitzgerald to run, but “there is no formal announcement until he takes the steps necessary to make it official.”

Mr. Fitzgerald was a main player in the fight over Wisconsin’s divisive union rights law, drumming up support for the measure that stripped most public employee collective bargaining rights.

He has said he intends to run for the Senate seat being vacated by retiring Democrat Herb Kohl, but hasn’t organized a campaign committee or taken other necessary steps.

Former U.S. Rep. Mark Neumann, a Republican, announced his candidacy Monday. Former Gov. Tommy G. Thompson, also a Republican, is among others considering a run.

WHITE HOUSE

Obama presses Congress for highway bill extension

President Obama is urging Congress to pass an extension of a federal highway bill that he says will protect 1 million jobs.

Speaking in the Rose Garden, Mr. Obama said that failure to pass an extension because of politics would be “inexcusable.” The president was joined by several transportation workers, as well as labor union and business leaders, two groups that often are at odds.

At issue is renewal of a transportation spending bill that expires Sept. 30. The Senate proposal would last two years and cost $109 billion. The House is considering a six-year bill that could cut spending from current levels.

Mr. Obama also is calling on Congress to pass clutter-free legislation extending the Federal Aviation Administration’s operating authority, which expires in mid-September.