Wartime contracting commission heads back to Iraq

A team investigating wartime contracting abuses has begun a 10-day trip to Kuwait and Iraq to examine the Defense Department's plans for transferring or disposing of $3 billion worth of in-theater property and equipment.

As U.S. troops begin to withdraw from Iraq, members of the congressionally mandated Commission on Wartime Contracting want to know the Pentagon's plan for removing more than 615,000 items of contractor-acquired, government-owned property from American bases in Iraq.

Commission member Charles Tiefer, a professor at the University of Baltimore School of Law, and two members of the panel's staff left on Tuesday for the information-gathering trip.

The team will hold meetings and conduct site visits in Kuwait -- the logistical center for U.S. operations in the region -- in Baghdad and other locations in Iraq. This is the commission's sixth tour of the war zone since December 2008. A trip to Afghanistan is planned for mid-August.

The commission's 121-page interim report to Congress on June 10 noted that in-theater equipment -- ranging from generators and trucks to tools and clothing -- can either be relocated to other war zones, transferred to the Iraqi government, sold or scrapped.

In some cases, it could cost more to ship the equipment back to the United States than to purchase new items, said commission spokesman Clark Irwin.

The report said that as a result of poor documentation in the early days of Iraq operations and a shortage of property management officers, base commanders cannot account for every piece of property, document its ownership or confirm that it has been maintained properly.

"Determining the history, condition and usefulness of this property is a huge challenge," said Robert Dickson, the commission's executive director. "And managing its disposition during the U.S. drawdown in Iraq will be a complicated and expensive operation. The commission will be looking at the planning and oversight of this operation to detail both good practices and weaknesses."

House Armed Services Chairman Ike Skelton, D-Mo, also is encouraging Defense to recover as much equipment and materiel as is "practicable," so that it can be used in Afghanistan to maintain military readiness or to respond to natural disasters in the United States.

"Our nation has not carried out a redeployment on this scale since the Vietnam War, and when I visited Vietnam years later I remember seeing rows and rows of U.S. equipment that we left behind," Skelton said on Wednesday following a classified briefing with Pentagon officials on the drawdown of American forces from Iraq. "We must do a better job managing the redeployment from Iraq."

The commission also will examine the Army's progress in converting the multibillion-dollar LOGCAP support contract in Iraq into a more competitive model. During the past year, the Army has begun phasing out its single-source LOGCAP III contract in Afghanistan and Kuwait and competing task orders under the multi-contractor LOGCAP IV award.

But the transition of work has been considerably slower in Iraq. The Army has said it plans to issue a new task order for Iraq under LOGCAP IV but that circumstances on the ground, including the removal of troops from the region, will dictate the timing.

"Complex details and specific dates to transition to LOGCAP IV in Iraq are being worked [out] with theater commanders," Daniel Carlson, a spokesman for the U.S. Army Sustainment Command said recently. "The scope of work is vital to soldiers and other personnel in theater. Hence, it is crucial to maintain a seamless flow of services to them."

KBR Inc. holds the current Iraq contract under LOGCAP III. The scope of work includes construction services, energy, water, meals, housing, sanitation, laundry and transportation.

Tiefer's team also will ask about the Army's plan to spend $600 million that is still remaining from the Commander's Emergency Response Program. The funds are available for field commanders in Iraq to use at their discretion for local stabilization, reconstruction and infrastructure projects but could be lost if not spent before the fiscal year ends on Sept. 30.

"These funds are a quick, constructive way to affect things in local areas," Irwin said.

The information gathered during the trip could shape future hearings and influence findings and recommendations for the commission's final report to Congress, Dickson said.

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