Iraq reconstruction IG subject of long-running investigation

An investigation into the inspector general overseeing Iraq reconstruction has been under way for more than a year, and focuses in part on allegations that the office is wasting funds on a project to produce a book on the reconstruction, according to multiple sources.

Former employees of Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction Stuart Bowen have submitted complaints leading to an investigation by a multiagency committee, officials confirmed Monday. Bowen is responsible for overseeing reconstruction activities at the State and Defense departments and at the U.S. Agency for International Development.

"We're aware there is an investigation," SIGIR spokeswoman Denise Burgess said. "It has been going on for some time." She said the allegations were filed by disgruntled former employees.

Other sources confirmed that the investigation was filed in early 2006 by a group of six former employees, almost all of whom have more than 20 years' experience in government. None have previously been involved with a whistleblower complaint, according to a source who has been in contact with the group but is not a part of it.

Portions of the complaint relate to allegations of excessive spending on a book project intended to sum up the Iraq reconstruction experience.

Burgess said the project, called the "Story of Iraq Reconstruction," or SIR, is a "capping report" that will present SIGIR's unique perspective on the reconstruction, including the period before oversight was established.

"What it's not going to be is a publication with a whole bunch of reports in it," Burgess said, explaining that it would use a narrative style to appeal to a wide audience. Citing the Iraq Study Group report and the recommendations of the Sept. 11 commission as models, she said the SIR project would "drill up" to capture the full picture of reconstruction.

The employees involved with the complaint have questioned spending IG funds on the book project, flagging it as potential waste, fraud or abuse that could constitute a violation of spending rules. They allege that Bowen already has devoted excessive staff time and resources to it.

Burgess said plans for publishing the report still are being fleshed out, but it is expected to be complete by the end of 2007. She said she did not know the size of the team working on it but said it consisted of in-house employees, though she said contractors have done much of the writing for the IG's quarterly reports to Congress and three lessons learned reports.

Some news reports have suggested that the investigation could be a form of retaliation by administration officials against Bowen, whose office often has been critical of the reconstruction effort.

Office of Management and Budget spokeswoman Andrea Wuebker stressed Monday that Clay Johnson, OMB's deputy director for management who heads the interagency group of inspectors general investigating the complaint, has no position on the committee that responds to specific allegations.

White House spokesman Tony Snow also has said there is no link between the White House and the investigation, noting that "when people raise allegations, somebody is going to look into it."

In February, Bowen worked with the head of the Government Accountability Office and IGs at the State and Defense departments to come up with a common definition for waste. The overseers agreed that "waste represents a transgression that is less than fraud and abuse and most waste does not involve a violation of law. Rather, waste relates primarily to mismanagement, inappropriate actions or inadequate oversight."

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