National Press Club

Iraq Inspector General Recounts Recovery of Missing Funds

March 17, 2009 | By Gregory Page

IG Stuart Bowen

IG Stuart Bowen

Photo/Image: Terry Hill

A team of investigators and auditors recently recovered $13 million in previously lost or stolen reconstruction funds, Stuart Bowen, the special inspector general for Iraq reconstruction, said at a March 16 Newsmaker.
Criticizing the government's lack of "institutional memory" in disbursing reconstruction monies during and after wartime, Bowen predicted that his office's 500-page account of the Iraq reconstruction program would be a blueprint for guiding future reconstruction and redevelopment in Afghanistan. The book, Hard Lessons: the Iraq Reconstruction Experience," was published a month ago.

Bowen said the overarching lesson of Iraq's reconstruction was the necessity of both monitoring reconstruction monies and holding contractors accountable for waste and fraud by adopting quality assurance standards and systems before public funds were spent, not afterwards. In Iraq, for example, he noted the Bush administration did not assign an inspector general to monitor its reconstruction program until approximately nine months after it began spending public reconstruction money. Another lesson from Iraq is that future relief and reconstruction funds should be matched to the "capacity and needs of the Afghani people," not to big-ticket projects either too big to be protected with sufficient infrastructure security or too complex to be readily built with local contractors and local workers, he said.

Of the $21 billion disbursed to date from the Iraqi Reconstruction Fund, Bowen estimated 15 to 20 percent had been lost because of waste. Optimistic about monitoring future Iraq reconstruction, Bowen reported his office had increased its investigations from 52 in the first quarter of 2008 to 80 now.

He also predicted that 2009 would be known as a "year of investigations" in Iraq and that a new forensic accounting initiative would increase his investigators' and auditors' effectiveness. Praising the Obama administration's cooperativeness , Bowen noted that, within 10 days of Inauguration, White House staffers had asked him for a briefing on the reconstruction lessons analyzed in "Hard Lessons."