The Buzz

Reconstruction Zone

To borrow from the lyrics of Paul Simon, all along there were incidents and accidents; there were hints and allegations about the extent of disorganization in U.S. reconstruction work in Iraq. But now the truth is out: The first two rebuilding organizations were as uncontrolled, chaotic, unaccountable and frenetic as the Keystone Kops.

People joined up and left without being accounted for. Officials made hires without going through headquarters. Some were quite expert, many were inexperienced. First the Office of Reconstruction and Humanitarian Assistance until early 2003, and then the Coalition Provisional Authority until June 2004 asked federal agencies for volunteers to be detailed to Iraq. Neither got much response, so military service members carried much of the load.

"There were all sorts of reasons that sending enough good people to Iraq was difficult, from simply the lack of places to sleep to the difficulty in getting people to put their lives on hold to do a demonstrably dangerous job," retired Rear Adm. David Oliver, former CPA management and budget director told the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction. "We simply did not have sufficient people."

That's not surprising. Preparation was insufficient at best. "We started [our staffing plan] in the first [week] of February . . . for a March problem," said retired Lt. Gen. Jay Garner, who headed ORHA.

According to a January report, "Lessons in Human Capital Management," by the IG, "There was no contingency organization. . . . No comprehensive policy or regulatory guidelines existed to staff a temporary 'surge' organization for stabilization and reconstruction."

Among the more egregious problems:

  • Staffing was haphazard. Senior officials recruited without going through the Coalition Provisional Authority office in Washington, which was responsible for hiring.
  • Many reconstruction employees were hired on temporary appointments usually used to fill seats on boards and commissions. They weren't legally obligated to complete their tours, and many didn't.
  • Lengths of service varied from a year for the Army, six months for the Navy, four months for the Air Force to six months for federal detailees.
  • CPA spent half of its 14-month existence preparing for its own demise.
  • CPA never reached authorized staff size due to burnout and shortened tours. In June 2004 as it was dissolving, CPA could not account for the whereabouts of 10 percent of its staff.

The IG recommended creating a civilian reserve corps to support relief operations.

Who You Gonna Call?

Most U.S. agencies were stingy in responding to requests for help in rebuilding Iraq. As of March 2004, the Coalition Provisional Authority had filled 1,196 of its 2,117 jobs. Here's how:
  • 1,041 employees came from other coalition members, were temporary appointees from outside government, or were detailed from the military or small federal and local agencies
  • 91 were from the State Department and the Agency for International Development
  • 64 came from other agencies

Cooling on Hot Underwear

American troops in Iraq found some relief from the extreme heat-summer days can reach 130 degrees Fahrenheit-and general discomfort from their assignments in synthetic athletic underwear that wicks moisture (such as sweat), permits air circulation and dries fast. Now even that small luxury is disappearing, at least for Marines. Commanders in Iraq have ordered Marines not to wear clothing containing polyester and nylon.

Heat made the clothing popular and heat got it banned. As it turns out, when synthetic material is exposed to extreme heat and flames, it melts and can fuse to the skin, worsening burn wounds, Navy Capt. Lynn E. Welling told the American Forces Information Service in an April 12 story. Welling is the 1st Marine Logistics Group head surgeon.

"Burns can kill you and they're horribly disfiguring. If you're throwing [a melted synthetic material] on top of a burn, basically you have a bad burn with a bunch of plastic melting into your skin and that's not how you want to go home to your family," Welling said.

Marines now can wear synthetic clothing only in operating bases and camps, where the risk of explosions and fire are lower. Hidden improvised explosive devices have become the No. 1 killer of U.S. service members in Iraq. IED explosions often engulf soldiers in flames. Marine Corps officials say they enacted the ban to reduce the risk that clothing could add to the damage caused by homemade bombs.

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