Commission on Wartime Contracting

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On July 18, 2007, Senators Jim Webb (D-VA) and Claire McCaskill (D-MO) introduced a bill to establish an independent, bipartisan Commission on Wartime Contracting to study U.S. wartime contracting in Iraq and Afghanistan. The bill was inspired by the work of the "Truman Committee," initially led by Senator Harry Truman (D-MO), that investigated government waste during and after World War II and saved American taxpayers an estimated $178 billion in today’s dollars.

Congressman John Tierney (D-MA) also introduced language similar to the Webb-McCaskill amendment in the House of Representatives in September 2007 as a stand-alone bill. The bipartisan legislation was supported by key taxpayer watchdog groups including: the Project on Government Oversight, Taxpayers for Common Sense, the Government Accountability Project, OMB Watch, Common Cause, U.S. PIRG, and Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America.

The National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2008, originally designated H.R. 1585, was subsequently renumbered H.R. 4986 after H.R. 1585 was vetoed by President George W. Bush on December 28, 2007. On January 16, 2008, a new version, H.R. 4986, was passed by the House of Representatives and, on January 22, by the Senate. President Bush signed the act on January 28, 2008, whereupon it became Public Law 110-181. Section 841 of the law established the Commission and assigned its duties.

The law establishing the Commission defines a broad and substantive mandate. The Commission is required to study, assess and make recommendations concerning wartime contracting for the reconstruction, logistical support, and the performance of security functions in Iraq and Afghanistan. The Commission's major objectives include a thorough assessment of the systemic problems identified with interagency wartime contracting, the identification of instances of waste, fraud and abuse, and ensuring accountability for those responsible.

Numerous audits, investigations, and congressional hearings have documented the magnitude of the problem. The Defense Contract Audit Agency estimated in 2007, for example, that there were more than $10 billion in questioned and unsupported costs relating to the Iraq reconstruction and military support contracts valued at $57 billion that it had reviewed. The agency noted that contracts worth $300 billion remained to be audited.

Similarly, congressional testimony by the Department of Defense Inspector General (DOD IG) staff in May 2008 revealed that its review of 702 U.S. Army commercial payments in Iraq, Kuwait, and Egypt indicated the Army made an estimated $1.4 billion in contract and vendor payments that lacked minimum supporting documentation and information for proper payment. When payments were not properly supported, the Army lacked assurance that funds were used as intended. The DOD IG also estimated $6.3 billion in Army commercial payments had the minimum supporting documents and information for a proper payment, but lacked support needed to comply with various laws and regulations.

To achieve its objectives, the Commission is empowered to hold hearings, take testimony, receive evidence, and provide for the attendance and testimony of witnesses as well as the production of documents. The Commission is able to secure from any agency of the federal government any information or assistance that it considers necessary to enable it to carry out its mandate to study, assess, and to make recommendations to Congress on wartime contracting. The Commission is also empowered to refer to the U.S. Attorney General any violation or potential violation of law it identifies. The law requires the Commission to make interim and final reports to Congress, and authorizes issuance of special reports as appropriate.

The Commission issued its first interim report, “At What Cost? Contingency Contracting in Iraq and Afghanistan,” in June 2009. The second, “At What Risk? Correcting Over-Reliance on Contractors in Contingency Operations,” was filed in February 2011. The final report to Congress, “Transforming Wartime Contracting: Controlling Costs, Reducing Risks,” was filed in August 2011. All of the Commission’s reports, including five special reports, are posted on its website.

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