Iraq rebuilding efforts plagued by persistent failures

Newly released assessments by the General Accounting Office and the inspector general of the defunct Coalition Provisional Authority show ongoing problems in U.S. efforts to manage programs to rebuild Iraq.

Persistent security failures, shortages of key personnel, poor management, improper recordkeeping and contracting problems all have hampered efforts to stabilize Iraq and put the country on a path to free elections, the reports found.

In the reports, released the same week that U.S. administrator L. Paul Bremer ceded governing authority to an interim Iraqi government, GAO and IG auditors examined security issues, the restoration of essential services, and management of the $58 billion in grants, loans, assets and revenues from various sources that have been directed to reconstruction.

Auditors from both agencies describe insufficient transparency in management of some reconstruction funds, and cite significant personnel management problems within the CPA. The IG noted in a report on personnel management, one of three studies of CPA operations issued on June 25, that the organization did not even have an accurate count of civilian personnel assigned to its operations in Baghdad, with possibly more than 100 employees unaccounted for.

In a GAO report issued this week (GAO-04-902R), auditors chronicled a series of management failures at the CPA, as well as broader strategic issues that have continued to undermine progress in reconstruction.

Many of the shortcomings in the CPA-led effort stem from the deteriorating security situation in Iraq. As conditions worsened throughout 2003, the CPA abandoned plans to fully staff offices across Iraq to assist with rebuilding and the political transition. The authority's small field presence was further hindered by the stringent security measures it adopted, which made it virtually impossible for CPA staff to travel freely outside the coalition's heavily fortified office complex in Baghdad, known as the Green Zone.

Some agencies supporting the CPA, including the Homeland Security Department, found that working conditions made it impossible for employees to perform their duties, and withdrew their staff from Iraq, GAO found.

Ordinary Iraqis throughout the country felt the brunt of the security situation. State Department opinion polls conducted in Iraq in January and June found that the majority of residents in five Iraqi cities named safety and security issues--ranging from street crime to sectarian conflict and large-scale attack--as their greatest concern.

One of the most vexing problems for the coalition has been restoring electricity, which is key to reviving Iraq's economy, supporting critical infrastructure, and improving daily life for Iraqis.

According to the GAO report, "electrical service in the country as a whole has not shown a marked improvement over the immediate postwar levels of May 2003 and has worsened in some governorates. For example, in May 2003, seven of Iraq's 18 governorates had 16 or more hours of electricity a day, but as of late May 2004, only one governorate in northern Iraq was at that level."

Security concerns have significantly delayed the electricity restoration program, which is being managed by the Army Corps of Engineers, because it has been impossible to get employees and materials to some project sites. Security-related costs are consuming nearly 18 percent of total project spending, the report shows.

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