Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., chairwoman of the Senate Armed Services subcommittee on readiness and management support, says she is working on a comprehensive overhaul of wartime contracting procedures. (File photo / Getty Images)
A key senator said Wednesday she is working on a comprehensive overhaul of wartime contracting procedures in response to a report that $60 billion of $206 billion spent on private contracts in Iraq and Afghanistan was lost to waste, fraud and abuse.
Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., chairwoman of the Senate Armed Services subcommittee on readiness and management support, pledged the new legislation during a hearing where Defense Department witnesses acknowledged problems with contracts but said they were making progress.
Some projects, including an expensive power plant, have been built but not used because Afghanistan can't afford to operate them, McCaskill said. "Somebody should've said ‘Whoa, time out, we need to stop this,' " she said.
Sen. Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire, the panel's ranking Republican, was equally adamant on the need for more accountability. "Contracting is the most powerful non-kinetic weapon on the battlefield — especially in a counterinsurgency," she said. "We must not haphazardly, obliviously or hastily contract," she said.
The Commission on Wartime Contracting in Iraq and Afghanistan, created at McCaskill's urging, says in its final report that it's not just the Defense Department that needs to improve. Contractors also need to do a better job of overseeing expenses.
Commission member Dov Zakheim, a former Pentagon comptroller, said what projects are pursued is as important as how money is spent. Projects should not be approved so easily, especially expensive ones, he said. "Why is DoD into $5 million projects?" he said.
For Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., there is a more fundamental question about why the Defense Department is spending money helping to improve the Afghanistan economy rather than concentrating on projects to help military operations. "You can imagine the consternation we have, when we're pouring almost as much into Afghanistan as Afghanistan generates in its own GDP," he said.
Manchin also worried that contractors are hiring troops away from the military. In his discussions with service members, "invariably they told me they intend to cycle out so they can get a better job in private contracting," he said.
Air Force Lt. Gen. Brooks Bash, logistics director on the Joint Staff, dismissed Manchin's concerns. "Retention of forces is really at an all-time high right now," he said.