Pentagon defends efforts to fight waste
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The Pentagon on Monday defended its efforts to eliminate wasteful wartime spending in Iraq and Afghanistan, as two new reports accused it of squandering tens of billions of dollars while tripling the amount of no-bid contracts.
The bipartisan Commission on Wartime Contracting is scheduled to deliver its final report on Wednesday, charting what it says is $30 billion in waste due to wartime contracting practices.
The Center for Public Integrity, a nonprofit investigative news group, said in a separate report on Monday that noncompetitive contracting at the Defense Department had nearly tripled since 2001, to more than $140 billion from $50 billion.
"We are well aware of some of the deficiencies over the years in how we have worked contracts," said Marine Corps Colonel David Lapan, a Pentagon spokesman. "We have worked hard over those years to try to correct those deficiencies when we come across them."
Lapan defended the use of no-bid contracts at a time of war.
"There have been many instances because of wartime needs where a long lengthy competitive bid contract process does not serve the needs of the war-fighters," he said. "In many instances it's a matter of saving lives, doing things more quickly because of the nature of conflict."
A decade of war in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere has cost the United States upward of $1 trillion.
The reports critiquing Pentagon contracting come as the Pentagon is being forced to reduce spending by some $350 billion over the next decade. Government-wide security spending could face an additional $600 billion in cuts unless Congress is able to agree to a compromise to get the federal deficit and $14.3 trillion debt under control.
The Commission on Wartime Contracting's report will weigh in at 240 pages, and is expected to include recommendations for reining in wasteful spending. Its conclusions of about $30 billion in lost funds were first reported in July.
DISSERVICE TO TAXPAYERS
"Tens of billions of taxpayer dollars have been wasted through poor planning, vague and shifting requirements, inadequate competition ... and subpar performance or outright misconduct by some contractors and federal employees," the co-chairmen of the panel wrote in The Washington Post on Sunday.
The two men -- former Representative Christopher Shays and former Defense Contract Audit Agency deputy director Mark Thibault -- cited unsustainable projects as a particular problem, such as $40 million spent on a prison Iraqis did not want and $300 million for a Kabul power plant the Afghan government does not have the funds or expertise to maintain.
"Our final report shows that the costs of contracting waste and fraud extend beyond the disservice to taxpayers," they wrote. "The costs include damage to the support for U.S. military, diplomatic and development efforts; fostering corruption in host countries; and undermining U.S. standing and influence overseas."
Lapan declined to comment on the specifics of the report, saying he had not seen the document and would wait until it was released. He said he was not sure whether the group had solicited Pentagon comment before finalizing its draft.
Lapan said Defense Department spending was under regular scrutiny from groups ranging from its own inspectors general for Iraq and Afghanistan to the Government Accountability Office and others.
"While the overall story is that there have been instances where there has been waste, we have tried to address those as we've gone along," Lapan said. "We believe that we've made a lot of progress, and we'll take a look at this report when it comes out Wednesday and see specifically are there additional things that we need to do going forward."
In its separate report, the Center for Public Integrity said the dollar value of competitive contracts at the Pentagon fell to 55 percent of the total in the first half of 2011, lower than at any point in the decade since the September 11 attacks.
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