- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 21, 2010

A call to fire the inspector general charged with sniffing out fraud and corruption in Afghanistan’s reconstruction grew a little louder and became bipartisan Wednesday.

Sen. Tom Coburn, Oklahoma Republican, asked President Obama to replace Arnold Fields, special inspector general for Afghanistan reconstruction (SIGAR), calling his work “appalling” and said there is “clearly a lack of competent senior leadership in his agency.”

“Fraud, corruption and wasted resources are placing our soldiers and the mission in Afghanistan in danger,” said Mr. Coburn, joining Sen. Claire McCaskill, Missouri Democrat, who last week demanded the firing of Mr. Fields.

“The president must take swift action and replace the inspector general and his top staff and immediately appoint an aggressive and independent watchdog who will oversee the billions of dollars the United States is sending there.”

The United States has committed $51 billion to Afghanistan reconstruction since 2001, and plans to raise the amount to $71 billion over the next year.

A recent Council of Inspectors General on Integrity and Efficiency report accused SIGAR of failing to meet professional standards for investigators and found deficiencies in the audit division — a review that followed a story by The Washington Times on SIGAR’s shortcomings.

The review also showed that Mr. Fields‘ office didn’t train investigators in the use of firearms and deadly force, didn’t have a policy on firearms and lacked an electronic filing system to collect important information - including data to measure investigators’ performance.

Mr. Fields, in a letter last week to the review council, said he accepts the report’s findings and will work to improve his agency, which the retired Marine major general has led since he was appointed by President George W. Bush in 2008.

“When I asked for this review, I anticipated that the CIGIE teams would identify a number of problem areas,” he wrote. “But I believe that undergoing an extensive peer evaluation at this time was far preferable to waiting for several more years.”

SIGAR spokeswoman Susan Phalen declined to comment Wednesday on the senators’ call for action.

The White House referred questions to the Defense and State departments. A Pentagon spokeswoman, when contacted regarding the matter, said it would be inappropriate to comment because SIGAR is independent of the two departments.

The Times story in March 2009 found that investigators were reviewing why $5 billion in previously appropriated aid had not been fully spent, how money meant for short-term humanitarian projects was diverted to road building and why Afghan police received inadequate training.

Mrs. McCaskill last week called on Mr. Obama to replace Mr. Fields.

“This report proves that SIGAR’s performance is inept,” said Mrs. McCaskill, chairman of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs subcommittee on contracting oversight. “It is time for a housecleaning at SIGAR, including new leadership. For the sake of our soldiers and the American taxpayer, time is of the essence.”

Both senators raised concerns about SIGAR late last year with the president.

Mr. Fields previously served as deputy director of the Africa Center for Strategic Studies with the Department of Defense, and also has worked in Iraq with the State Department.

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  • This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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