It only took, oh, seven years and up to $6 billion
in potentially-criminal contracting fraud, but Congress is finally set to create an independent, bipartisan commission to investigate contracting in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Last night, the Senate unanimously approved an amendment to the defense authorization bill (not the appropriations bill, as I mistakenly wrote earlier this week) drafted
by freshman Democratic Senators Jim Webb and Claire McCaskill that creates an eight-member commission studying a plethora of contractor-related issues. Waste, fraud and abuse is only the start. The commission will also look at how the federal government contracts for "security and intelligence functions" in Iraq and Afghanistan. Some defense experts believe
that the overreliance on contract security is counterproductive to U.S. counterinsurgency efforts.
The commission will deliver a report after the 2008 election -- on January 15, 2009 -- containing "specific recommendations" for improvements to the contracting process. It will seek to determine which functions contracted out are "inherently governmental" -- a key concern for critics of outsourced security and intelligence priorities. While the primary product from the commission will be its report, it has the authority to refer potential criminal charges resulting from its inquiry to the Attorney General for prosecution.
However, the commission no longer has direct subpoena power, which was provided in an earlier version of the amendment, and which had drawn concern from Sen. John Warner (R-VA). In the final version, if the commission has difficulty acquiring information from any federal agency, it's to report that difficulty to Congress, and rely on Congressional subpoena power to resolve any deadlock. However, the bill essentially makes the office of the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction (SIGIR) into the commission's staff on the ground in Iraq, and a similar body will do the same in Afghanistan. SIGIR has subpoena power for both federal agencies and contractors. The bill's authors considered the subpoena-power change, made to satisfy some GOP concerns, to be reasonable.
President Bush is likely to sign the defense authorization into law, but concerns have been raised over the inclusion of a hate-crimes amendment
, which might attract the president's veto.Update
: This post has been corrected.