Iraq reconstruction projects fall back into disrepair

By Jenny Mandel

April 30, 2007

Problems with maintenance and other aspects of sustaining Iraq reconstruction projects threaten the future usefulness of some U.S.-built facilities, according to recent inspector general reports.

In a series of reports to Congress detailing a sample of major projects, the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction found that new equipment and facilities turned over to local authorities suffered from misuse and neglect.

In an assessment of a refurbished maternity and pediatric hospital in Erbil province, auditors wrote, "SIGIR inspectors did not find evidence that the original rehabilitation work on the hospital and installation of new equipment had not met specifications. However, they did find ... sustainment issues, where a lack of trained personnel, hospital waste disposal procedures, routine cleaning practices, and inadequate equipment maintenance and parts programs have and are continuing to have a negative impact on hospital operations."

The inspectors visited Erbil Hospital as part of a review to judge whether completed projects turned over to the Iraqi government stood a good chance of remaining in operation. Other projects reviewed included the installation of electric generators at Baghdad airport, repair and construction work at two police stations, and work on an oil terminal.

For some of those projects, inspectors were satisfied with the facility's condition or found that needed corrections fell within the scope of ongoing work or contract warranties. But many of the defects spotted by inspectors had arisen since the projects were turned over, and for some it was unclear whether the problems were related to faulty initial contract work or more recent attempts at repair.

At the hospital, where renovations were completed in May 2006, auditors found sewers once again in disrepair, a new water boiler broken and cannibalized for parts, water treatment equipment damaged by leaks, and a padlocked incinerator, which hospital officials said was unused due to the departure of the only person trained to operate it.

The IG office recommended that reconstruction officials work with the Iraqi government and hospital personnel to address the training shortfalls, poor waste disposal practices, equipment maintenance and other problems leading to the poor condition of the newly refurbished facility.

But the State Department's Iraq Reconstruction Management Office and the Army Corps of Engineers, which oversaw the hospital project, disagreed with the IG's recommendations.

"Regardless of their merits, recommendations identified in the SIGIR assessment appear to exceed the statement of work, purview or authority of either IRMO as funding agency, or [the Army Corps of Engineers] as the implementer to enforce," wrote William Lynch, acting director of the Iraq Reconstruction Management Office, in a response. He noted that the report does not discuss or suggest under what authority either group could take the actions recommended by the IG.

The Army Corps had a similar response, and suggested that a follow-on service contract could be awarded for training if funding were provided.

The IG office did not counter the agencies' arguments, or offer a solution. In response, the auditors warned, "Failure to take corrective action will severely risk the United States government investment in the Iraqi reconstruction effort."

By Jenny Mandel

April 30, 2007