Today’s Must Read

War: it’s not a time for strict accounting.

USA Today conducted a Freedom of Information Act review of Pentagon contracting in the Iraq war. The paper found that, through October, more than two-thirds of contracts flagged by auditors as “inflated, erroneous or otherwise improper” eventually found their way to approval, representing over $1 billion. In total, auditors have raised red flags about 10 percent of contracts for about $38.5 billion in bidded-out Iraq funds.

Sometimes the overruns are legit, say contracting officials:

Linda Theis, a spokeswoman for the Army office overseeing the largest contract in Iraq, said payments of questioned costs often happen when the contractor provides evidence justifying the spending.

“Sometimes the contractor is able to provide additional information or rationale to convince the contracting officer to include the cost in the estimate, and sometimes they do not,” Theis wrote in an e-mail to USA TODAY.

Contracting officers often gave more weight to companies’ justifications for costs in Iraq because they were operating in a war zone, the head of the Defense Contract Audit Agency (DCAA), William Reed, testified at a congressional hearing in February. “I am satisfied they are fairly considering our recommendations,” Reed said of Pentagon contract managers.

Special cases can certainly arise, like with, say, vehicle armor for U.S. troops, which is widely recognized as an urgent need. (As several readers pointed out about this post of mine last week on a DOD IG report criticizing armor-kit providers.) But these are for reconstruction contracts — and there’s not a whole lot of actual reconstruction going on anymore in Iraq. USA Today doesn’t itemize the sketchy contracts, so it’s hard to evaluate any mitigating claim for fast-tracking bids that might bilk the taxpayer.

A last bit of context. According to the paper, two-thirds of these flagged contracts for Iraq eventually won approval. That compares with 44 percent of flagged Pentagon contracts that didn’t have to do with the war in 2005. If that’s a representative sample of normal DOD procurement practices, why isn’t that a scandal?