Wartime commission report on waste prompts opposing reactions

Contractors group says criticism ‘ignores realities’ of war zone contingency operations.

This week's report by a commission charging that contracting operations wasted as much as $60 billion in Iraq and Afghanistan was applauded by many as a prod to new reforms. But at least one contractors' group attacked the work of the congressionally chartered panel as unfair.

The Professional Services Council said in a statement Wednesday that "while the Wartime Contracting Commission's final report contains valuable lessons from contingency operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, many of its recommendations ignore the dynamic and complicated realities of contingency operations in which the otherwise cyclic phases of counterinsurgency, stabilization and longer term development efforts have been pursued concurrently."

PSC President and chief executive officer Stan Soloway said his group agrees that improved planning and more trained federal acquisition employees are needed, but he disagreed with what he called the commission's "misplaced hope that shortening contract performance periods and shunning pre-positioned supply vehicles will somehow eliminate the inherent uncertainties and risks of wartime contracting."

Soloway added that some of what the report characterizes as waste fails to factor in "the competing priorities of cost efficiencies with military, diplomatic and security goals." As an example, he cited the difficulties in transporting materials for completing a strategically important dam in Afghanistan when that country lacks transportation infrastructure.

The Obama White House, meanwhile, wasted no time in using the report as an opportunity to highlight its own work to reduce waste in contracting. Dan Gordon, administrator of the Office of Federal Procurement Policy, wrote in a blog post Wednesday afternoon that the administration already has made significant progress addressing each of the issues raised in the commission's report, "in many cases reversing more than a decade of problems," he said. "Whether it is reducing improper payments to contractors and grantees, closing down redundant data centers, or cracking down on nonperforming contractors, we cannot tolerate the wasting of hard-earned taxpayer dollars."

Gordon cited efforts to curb waste, reduce no-bid contracts and suspend unethical contractors. "In the last 18 months alone, [the U.S. Agency for International Development] has taken more than 40 suspension or debarment actions -- almost double the number of actions taken in the prior seven years combined," he said.

The commission's final report was welcomed by the watchdog nonprofit Project on Government Oversight. The report "deserves considerable attention to ensure that past blunders are not repeated," said Scott Amey, POGO's general counsel. "The commission's finding that at least one out of every six taxpayer dollars spent in Iraq and Afghanistan was lost to waste and fraud is not surprising -- but it is absurd. In other words, for the past 10 years, the government has thrown $12 million a day out the window and received nothing in return. The government and contractors have to do a better job protecting taxpayer money, even in contingency operations."