Pentagon asks Congress to drop plan for Afghanistan IG

Defense officials say the office would be redundant and deplete the department’s regular inspector general of needed personnel.

The Pentagon is urging House-Senate conferees on the fiscal 2008 defense authorization bill to drop a provision in the House measure that would create a special inspector general for Afghanistan reconstruction.

The office would be modeled largely on the independent investigator examining rebuilding efforts in Iraq, where the temporary office has uncovered billions of dollars of contract waste and fraud. In May, House Armed Services Chairman Ike Skelton, D-Mo., called it among one of his bill's most significant provisions, and stressed that the inspector general in Afghanistan would "ensure even greater accountability" of efforts there.

But in a package of appeals on the authorization measure sent last week to the House and Senate Armed Services committees, Pentagon officials said they view the creation of the special investigator as a redundant office that would deplete the Pentagon's inspector general of needed personnel. The Senate version of the bill also created the Afghanistan inspector general, but the Pentagon did not address that provision.

The special inspector general for Iraq reconstruction "already competes with the departmental IGs for trained staff, who must also be willing to deploy to Iraq," according to the appeal. "Staffing this new special IG for Afghanistan reconstruction would further draw on the limited pool of trained personnel, with limited resources to mentor and train less senior staff."

Pentagon officials also argued the office would take resources from other Afghanistan reconstruction efforts because the bill requires funding to be redirected from other reconstruction accounts.

The Defense Department criticized the House provision because officials believed it would be an internal organization rather than a more independent, cross-agency entity. The House provision requires the Afghanistan IG to report directly to the Defense secretary, but also gives the office oversight of other federal agencies.

A House aide familiar with the provision stressed the intent was not to make another internal Pentagon organization and said members are working to have the IG also report to the Secretary of State. Indeed, the Senate version requires the Afghanistan IG to report both to the secretaries of Defense and State.

The Iraq inspector general was created by Congress as an amendment to the fiscal 2004 emergency wartime supplemental spending measure. Last year, Congress approved language that would keep the office of the Iraq special inspector open until October 2008, overturning a House Republican-sponsored amendment to the fiscal 2007 defense authorization bill that would shutter the office a year earlier.

According to the House provision, the Afghanistan inspector general office would close 10 months after 80 percent of the funds appropriated for Afghanistan reconstruction have been spent. The Senate bill would close the office on Sept. 30, 2010.