- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 2, 2011

The State Department is blocking inspectors from the U.S. government’s independent auditor for Iraqi reconstruction from conducting an assessment of the department’s multibillion-dollar effort to train Iraq’s police.

Stuart Bowen, the special inspector general for Iraq reconstruction, discussed the standoff with the State Department in an interview this week.

“We have a long history of auditing the police training in Iraq,” Mr. Bowen said. “It is simply a misapprehension to conclude that our jurisdiction only applies to bricks-and-mortar reconstruction. To the contrary, Congress has charged us with overseeing the expenditure of funds in Iraq.”

Mr. Bowen said he will continue to make the case to his colleagues at the State Department that his inspectors have jurisdiction to perform their audits.

“We are going to try and engage with the State Department and make the case why our statute and past practice demonstrably supports our jurisdiction over the police-development program,” he said. “I hope they will see the correctness of our position and allow this audit to go forward. If they don’t agree, then I think the Hill might intervene further.”

Although all U.S. troops are scheduled to exit by the end of this year, the Obama administration is planning for a substantial long-term U.S. presence in Iraq. U.S. diplomats, troops and contractors will continue to train Iraq’s police, army, air force and intelligence services well past the end of the U.S. military mission.

A key difference will be that these programs will be under the control of the State Department and not a U.S. military commander. The transition from the military to the State Department is scheduled for Oct. 1.

Police training is a major part of the State Department’s new portfolio. The administration requested $1 billion for the 2012 fiscal year for police training alone and another $1 billion for military aid to Iraq. It also is seeking more than $300 million for economic-support funds.

Since 2003, Congress has appropriated $61.45 billion for reconstruction activities in Iraq, according to Mr. Bowen’s office.

On Wednesday, the State Department’s coordinator for Iraq transition, Patricia Haslach, told Congress that Mr. Bowen’s office, also known by the acronym SIGIR, had almost no jurisdiction over State Department spending in Iraq beyond Oct. 1.

“We do not read the responsibilities assigned to SIGIR, in its founding statute, as extending to the State Department’s operation in support of our diplomatic platform in Iraq,” she said.

“Those audit responsibilities fall, we feel, within the purview of other oversight and audit entities, such as the [Government Accountability Office], the survey and investigation staff of the House Appropriations Committee, the Department of State Office of Inspector General, and the Commission on Wartime Contracting,” she added.

Ms. Haslach said the department regards SIGIR jurisdiction as limited to “reconstruction” activities, as opposed to “technical assistance and capacity-building” that the State Department will run after the military mission in Iraq ends.

Rep. Steve Chabot, Ohio Republican and chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Middle East and South Asia subcommittee, said in his exchange with the ambassador that it is “inappropriate for the department to try to block SIGIR’s access to information on how preparations to carry out a prospective appropriation of more than $1 billion are proceeding.”

Police training is a contentious subject for Congress. U.S. military leaders have long acknowledged that Iraq’s national and local police forces are often more corrupt and less capable than the Iraqi military.

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