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Inspector general for Afghanistan relieves two deputies

Under fire from lawmakers, chief auditor of U.S. spending in war zone says he’s bringing in new blood to improve efforts to curb waste and overspending.

Arnold Fields, the retired Marine general charged with auditing the $56 billion the United States has spent rebuilding Afghanistan since 2002, removed two top deputies on Monday, saying he was announcing organizational changes that "will take the agency in a new, increasingly aggressive direction."

Fields relieved John Brummet, assistant inspector general for audits, and Raymond DiNunzio, assistant inspector general for investigations, two months after bringing in a new deputy, FBI veteran Herbert Richardson, to help run the troubled Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction.

"This was not an action of negativity, rather an action to bring in new leadership to SIGAR as the agency heads in a new direction. The men will stay on for a period of time as advisers," SIGAR spokeswoman Susan Phalen told Government Executive. "Special Inspector Fields has been conducting a top-to-bottom review of the SIGAR agency for a period of months to ensure the agency is staffed with the right professionals with the right skill sets to fulfill the mission. The recent actions are part of that ongoing review process that also takes into consideration input from stakeholders on Capitol Hill."

Field's struggle to get a handle on the billions being spent on schools, roads and job creation in the war-torn and unstable country prompted a call for his resignation in September 2010 by Sens. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo.; Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa; Tom Coburn, R-Okla.; and Susan Collins, R-Maine. He also received a negative review from the Council of the Inspectors General on Integrity and Efficiency.

In reshaping his operation, Fields said on Monday that he had ordered a review of SIGAR's audit plan "to ensure we more aggressively include risk assessment in that strategy and increase the return on investment for the American taxpayers. Our new audit strategy will also ensure that we have an increased emphasis on contract reviews and oversight [while SIGAR's investigations] will more robustly focus resources on complex contract fraud and financial corruption."

Fields told reporters on Dec. 20 that the number of U.S. dollars squandered in Afghanistan could be in the billions because "there are no controls in place sufficient enough to ensure taxpayers' money is used for the [intended] purpose." That comment reflected a group of audits and a quarterly report SIGAR released in late October showing, for example, the U.S. has lost track of salary supplements paid to Afghan gardeners, drivers, cooks and technical advisers who can receive up to 20 times what the country's civil servants typically earn.

"It is outrageous that the U.S. government can't even determine the amount we pay to support Afghan government employees, or how many people are paid," Fields said.

Those audits won approval from at least one longtime critic of SIGAR. Danielle Brian, executive director of the Project on Government Oversight, said the October reports were "more in line with what Congress wants. It's the kind of thing we'd like to see more of."