Iraq rebuilding ‘hit by bad planning’

by Stephanie Kirchgaessner in Washington

The US government failed to prepare adequate procurement and contracting systems before its 2003 invasion of Iraq, a predicament that has severely hampered the $20bn (€16bn, £11bn) reconstruction effort, according to a report released to Congress on Wednesday.

Stuart Bowen, the special inspector-general for Iraq reconstruction, said the US needed to overhaul and simplify its current contracting and procurement procedures for “universal use” in future post-conflict situations.

In a 140-page report to Congress, Mr Bowen detailed how a hodge-podge approach to the reconstruction effort, which engaged multiple US government agencies with overlapping jurisdictions, led to procurement and contracting policies that occasionally came into conflict.

Although he stressed before lawmakers at the Senate homeland security committee that aspects of the reconstruction effort had improved, Mr Bowen’s report was met with frustration by legislators, who increasingly link the ultimate outcome of the war with the success or failure of the reconstruction effort.

“I don’t know if we’ve ever had such a post-conflict challenge. I have to believe from a historical point of view that this miscalculation [on postwar reconstruction planning] will go down as a major mistake that we made,” said Senator George Voinovich.

Senator Joseph Lieberman, who is facing an unexpectedly tough election challenge largely because of his strong support for the war, blamed the Bush administration for taking “far too many short cuts” in its planning and implementation of the reconstruction of Iraq.

Mr Bowen, a former attorney for President George W. Bush who is preparing for his 13th trip to Iraq on Monday, has been a frequent bearer of bad news on US reconstruction efforts. In a series of audits released in recent days, the inspector- general has highlighted the “pervasive corruption’’ in Iraq that threatens the nation’s future; the heavy toll the lack of security has taken on reconstruction efforts; and significant questions about the sustainability of US projects once they are handed over to Iraqis.

In a separate report that investigated their sustainability, Mr Bowen’s office found that there was no overall strategic plan for the handover of reconstruction projects to the Iraqi government, whose commitment to sustaining US projects was “uncertain” because Iraq had not yet set its 2007 budget.

Although Mr Bowen has highlighted six recommendations to Congress, including the “institutionalisation” of smaller scale contracting programmes that are developed “on the ground” to meet specific needs in post-conflict areas, his report highlights some early resistance to the suggestions by some government agencies.

Mr Bowen testified on Wednesday that the “first thing” General George Casey, the top US commander in Iraq, had told him at a November meeting was the need for the US to improve how it regulates rapid contracting activity, which needed to be more uniform and accessible.

But in its report to Congress, the office of the special inspector-general indicated that the State Department believed the current system was flexible enough to meet contracting needs and that more training could remedy current problems.

Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2006