- 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.

The U.S. government has spent $7.3 billion for training Iraqi police since 2003, according to the SIGIR report from October, the most recent available. The report stated that 400,000 Iraqis received training and are on the force, but the “capabilities of these forces are unknown because no assessments of total force capabilities were made.”

Specifically, the State Department’s International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs (INL) bureau has come under fire from SIGIR for its management of the contract with a company called DynCorp to train police in Iraq, Afghanistan and Jordan.

A 2010 SIGIR audit of the State Department’s oversight of the DynCorp contract concluded that “INL lacks sufficient resources and controls to adequately manage the task orders with DynCorp. As a result, over $2.5 billion in U.S. funds are vulnerable to waste and fraud.”

The State Department in 2003 was given initial responsibility for training Iraqi police. By 2004, however, police training was folded into the U.S. military mission to provide overall training to Iraqi security forces. Nonetheless, DynCorp kept the police-training contract.

Lt. Gen. James M. Dubik, who commanded all U.S. and NATO training of Iraqi security forces between May 2007 and July 2008 and is now retired, said a lot of money was wasted in Iraq training the police during the height of the Iraqi insurgency.

“Until you have the right conditions in a community, security conditions, training police wastes money,” the retired general said in an interview Thursday.

He added: “If you live in a community where the police are intimidated by the insurgents, where they are inadequately paid and they are expected to leech off a society and it’s unclear whether the elected government will actually succeed in the counterinsurgency, then training local police under those conditions cannot succeed.”

Gen. Dubik, now with the private Institute for the Study of War, said he focused most of his resources in the first seven months of his tour in Iraq on training the Iraqi army and other paramilitary groups. It wasn’t until the U.S. counterinsurgency strategy started to create security, Gen. Dubik said, that he turned his focus on police training.

For now, the issue of the State Department’s readiness to take full control of the police training mission could become an issue for Congress.

On March 31, Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, Florida Republican and chairwoman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee; Rep. Darrell Issa, California Republican and chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee; and two other House Republican colleagues, wrote a letter urging Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton to cooperate with SIGIR’s request for information for its quarterly reports.

“State has declined to answer SIGIR’s request for information on the status and funding of several aspects of its reconstruction responsibilities, excluding from SIGIR’s oversight virtually all of the activities of U.S. Embassy Baghdad which support ongoing reconstruction efforts,” the lawmakers wrote. “This is unacceptable.”

The State Department’s ability to manage Iraq programs going forward in 2012 also is being questioned by the department’s inspector general.

In a report released Thursday, the State Department inspector general found, “Although effective planning mechanisms are in place to manage the transition process, some key milestones are not being met, and there is a risk that some programs and operations will not be ready.”

• Eli Lake can be reached at elake@washingtontimes.com.

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