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Daily Column
US Papers Sat: Contractor Oversight Faulted
Opinion: Funding for NGO Accused of Shortchanging Veterans Should Be Cut Off
By DANIEL W. SMITH 01/10/2009 01:58 AM ET
The biggest Iraq news today is that there almost isn’t any. For the second time this week, the editors of the New York Times deemed it unnecessary to include original Iraq coverage. We are left with one Washington Post news story, and an opinion piece, both of which find fault with government efforts to manage entities with a connection to Iraq.

Karen DeYoung of the Washington Post reports that the State Department may have violated federal regulations in turning over management aspects of its multibillion-dollar private security contract in Iraq to other contractors, the department's inspector general concludes in a report released yesterday.

DeYoung writes an article of straight information, rather informative for those who are familiar with the topic, but which will send casual readers to the funny pages. According to the report, a closer watch is called for on expenditures in Iraq and Afghanistan, says the State Department Bureau of Diplomatic Security.
The report, produced by a regional IG office established last year to keep closer watch on expenditures in Iraq and Afghanistan, says the State Department Bureau of Diplomatic Security had been "highly effective in ensuring the safety" of diplomatic personnel in Iraq. There have been no casualties among U.S. diplomatic and civilian officials protected by contractors under the bureau's supervision.
"However," it says, "the rapid rise in use and scale of private security contractors has strained the Department's ability to effectively manage them." Department efforts, the IG found, were "undermined by frequent staff turnover, understaffing, increased workload, and the lack of standardized operating policies and procedures."

The report says contractors, not government agencies, had been hired to keep track of government equipment supplied to security contractors in Iraq, and that is a conflict of interest that has been pointed out before – restated more simply, private contractors keeping watch over private contractors.
There is no mention of the indictment last month of six Blackwater guards in a 2007 shooting incident in Baghdad that left at least 14 Iraqi civilians dead. The incident led Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to change procedures for guarding diplomatic convoys and to calls to cancel Blackwater's contract when it is due for review this spring. An umbrella Worldwide Personal Protective Services contract covers the State Department's relationship with the three companies, each of which is capped at $1.2 billion in payments over a five-year period, with annual reviews, for services in Iraq and elsewhere. The current contract was first signed in 2005.
The Washington Post editorial page goes out on a limb today, and decries the actions of the National Veterans Business Development Corp., who have been found to have squandered most of the $17 million in federal funds it has received since 2001, instead of helping to fund veteran entrepreneurs, its stated goal. A measly average of 15 percent actually going to the cause wasn’t low enough, so last year, they lowered it to 9 percent. Apparently veterans aren’t screwed over enough by the US government, so the private sector has chipped in.

The obvious argument is that government funding should be cut off.

Equally troubling -- or, as Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) put it, "appalling" -- were revelations about how money was squandered on lavish perks -- like more than $2,400 each for two occasions at a ritzy D.C. steakhouse (no info on how many people that fed), for which no justification was provided. Or stays in luxury hotels ($380 per night for Rosewood Mansion on Turtle Creek in Dallas). Officials with the group dispute some of the report's findings, argue that they are on the right track with new leadership and say that they want to work with Congress to take any needed corrective actions.
Wall Street Journal, no Iraq coverage.

Christian Science Monitor, USA Today, no Saturday Editions.


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