- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 28, 2009

IRAQ

Audit: Contractor oversight improving

The government has kept a closer eye on U.S. contractors in Iraq since a deadly 2007 shooting by Blackwater guards, but it still needs to do a better job tracking and investigating when private security guards fire their guns, two new Pentagon audits have found.

The reports are to be released Tuesday by the Pentagon’s special inspector general for Iraq reconstruction. They looked at the oversight of at least 13 U.S. firms working for the Defense and State departments between May 2008 and February 2009.

In perhaps the most serious lapse of oversight, one of the audits concluded, contractor watchdogs did not properly report and track the May 2008 death of an Army Corps of Engineers employee who was caught in a gunfight between security guards and al Qaeda suspects near Bayji in central Iraq.

Pentagon auditors said the employee’s death should have been recorded in a database and triggered an Army investigation. U.S. officials in Iraq, however, said that was unnecessary if “the incident is caused by the enemy and does not involve a local national,” the audit found.

“Because of the lack of documentation, we could not determine if the incident was not investigated for the reasons cited by … officials or there simply is no record of an investigation,” the audit noted.

In all, contractor watchdogs did not record five out of 109 incidents where private guards fired their weapons during the 10-month period, the audit found. Moreover, the watchdogs’ database did not have evidence supporting 51 percent of the incidents reported.

Responding, the military’s Armed Contractor Oversight Branch in Iraq reported that it now tracks all serious incident reports of contractor shootings in its database, including 44 between February and June.

BANKING

Frank: No ‘escape hatch’ from rules

The senior House Democrat in charge of overhauling the nation’s banking and investment regulations warned Monday that foreign banks would be denied access to the U.S. system if their governments allow them to become an “escape hatch” for risky investments.

Opponents of President Obama’s plan to clamp down on banks and other financial institutions say business will move offshore where rules will be more relaxed.

Rep. Barney Frank, Massachusetts Democrat and chairman of the House Financial Services Committee, told reporters that his legislation would require the Treasury Department to certify that foreign governments are cooperating with the stiffer U.S. regulations to come. If a country’s own rules are considerably more lax, their banks won’t be allowed by the Federal Reserve to access the U.S. system, he said.

“Any country, anywhere in the world which holds itself out as an escape hatch will be denied access to the American financial system,” Mr. Frank said at a National Press Club luncheon.

He said he has discussed the need for international cooperation on financial regulations with Treasury Secretary Timothy F. Geithner, as well as officials from the European Union and other foreign officials.

AID

Four cities don’t get COPS aid

Federal officials say a $1 billion economic stimulus program to help cities avoid laying off police officers has decided not to give money to four major U.S. cities - New York, Seattle, Houston and Pittsburgh.

The officials told the Associated Press that the four cities were among about 7,000 state and local agencies that would not get aid under the so-called COPS program in the economic stimulus bill passed earlier this year. More than 1,000 agencies will receive aid.

The officials spoke Monday on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the details publicly.

Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. and Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. are to appear in Philadelphia on Tuesday to announce who gets what.

POLL

Only 30 percent approve of the Fed

The share of Americans who think the Federal Reserve is doing an excellent to good job has sunk even as Chairman Ben S. Bernanke has taken unprecedented steps to try to prevent a financial catastrophe, according to a new poll released Monday.

Many analysts credit Mr. Bernanke’s unconventional approach with averting disaster last year. But his support of taxpayer bailouts of big financial firms such as insurance giant American International Group Inc. upset the public and many lawmakers.

The Gallup Poll, conducted in mid-July, found that only 30 percent rated the Fed as doing an “excellent/good” job.

It was the lowest such score out of nine government agencies.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention topped the list with 61 percent of poll respondents rating that agency excellent to good. NASA and the FBI tied for second place at 58 percent each.

The CIA, the Department of Homeland Security, the Environmental Protection Agency, the Internal Revenue Service and the Food and Drug Administration all scored higher than the Fed, the poll said.

BUSINESS

Former Sen. Craig advises on energy

IDAHO FALLS, Idaho | Former U.S. Sen. Larry E. Craig has opened a consulting firm and says he’s focusing on energy issues.

The Idaho Republican served 18 years in the Senate and 10 in the House. He has an office in Eagle, in southwest Idaho, and another in Washington.

In January, Mr. Craig formed New West Strategies LLC with his former chief of staff, Mike Ware.

Mr. Craig says the firm has four clients, including Blackfoot-based Premier Technology, a construction management company with clients that include the U.S. Department of Energy and the Department of Defense.

Mr. Craig didn’t run for re-election in November.

In 2007, he was arrested by an undercover police officer conducting a sting operation against men cruising for sex at the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport.

STATE DEPARTMENT

Clinton to meet Somali president

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton plans to meet the president of Somalia’s transitional government during a seven-nation trip to Africa next week, the State Department said Monday.

Mrs. Clinton will be the highest-ranking U.S. official to meet Somali President Sheik Sharif Ahmed, signaling the Obama administration’s strong wish to bolster the fragile government in the lawless Horn of Africa country.

The meeting will take place on the sidelines of an annual trade forum with sub-Saharan countries being held in Kenya’s capital, Nairobi, on Aug. 5, said State Department spokesman Ian Kelly in a statement announcing the trip.

Mr. Kelly gave no other details of the meeting with Mr. Ahmed, who is struggling to take control of the nation from hard-line opposition fighters bent on overthrowing his Western-backed government.

From wire dispatches and staff reports

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