Hooray, contractors! Remember, kids: the free market is always more efficient than a government agency. So it's a good thing we out-sourced the most important national foreign policy initiatives in a generation.
After five years of investigations and 250,000 pages of audits, Stuart W. Bowen Jr. wishes he could say that the $50 billion cost of the U.S. reconstruction effort in Iraq was money accounted for and well spent.
"But that's just not happened," Bowen said.
Instead, the largest single-country relief and reconstruction project in U.S. history -- most of it done by private U.S. contractors -- was full of wasted funds, fraud and a lack of accountability under what Bowen, the congressionally mandated special inspector general for Iraq reconstruction, calls an "ad hoc-racy" of lax or nonexistent government planning and supervision.
And despite the Iraq experience, he said, the United States is making many of the same mistakes again in Afghanistan, where U.S. reconstruction expenditures stand at more than $30 billion and counting.
"It's too late to do the structural part and make it quickly applicable to Afghanistan," Bowen said in an interview last week. None of the substantive changes in oversight, contracting and reconstruction planning or personnel assignments that Congress, auditors and outside experts proposed as the Iraq debacle unfolded has been implemented in Afghanistan.