On February 2, 2009, Stuart W. Bowen, Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction, released a report on the United States’ appropriation of $50 billion for rebuilding efforts in Iraq.
The report, titled Hard Lessons: The Iraq Reconstruction Experience, blamed many of the problems encountered in reconstruction projects on pre-war planning that was “blinkered and disjointed,” and on poor security in the post-war phase.
“Why was an extensive rebuilding plan carried out in a gravely unstable security environment?” asked Bowen, who served under former President George W. Bush in various capacities. “This question underscores an overarching hard lesson from Iraq: Beware of pursuing large-scale reconstruction programs while significant conflict continues.”
Although there was a fragile improvement in the security environment in Iraq, the report criticized the U.S. occupation forces for having “neither the established structure nor the necessary resources to carry out the reconstruction mission it took on in mid-2003.” The report also noted that “U.S. reconstruction managers were overwhelmed by the challenges of building in a war zone” and hampered by “weak unity of command and inconsistent unity of effort,” which resulted in a high rate of personnel turnover and lack of cooperation among government agencies.
Another costly error was the disbanding of the Iraqi police force and military, and the de-Baathification of the Iraqi gov-ernment. This meant that the U.S. occupation “had to build entirely new Iraqi security forces, a task that would ultimately consume more than half of all U.S.-appropriated reconstruction dollars.”
While noting that incidents of out-and-out fraud constituted a relatively low percentage of the funds spent on recon-struction, there were some “egregious examples of fraud” which, along with other waste, “grossly overburdened” rebuild-ing efforts.
The report especially criticized the “overuse of cost-plus contracts, high contractor overhead expenses, excessive con-tractor award fees and unacceptable program and project delays,” which “contributed to a significant waste of taxpayers’ dol-lars.” An estimated $4 billion in Iraq reconstruction funds was deemed “waste.”
The report singled out a prison project in Khan Bani Saad as “perhaps the single greatest project failure in the U.S. reconstruction program.” The U.S. spent $40 million on the maximum-security prison, but has nothing to show for it except a “skeletal, half-built” shell that “will probably never house an inmate.”
According to the report, “poor security and weak subcontractor performance” resulted in suspension of the prison construction project, which is unlikely to ever be completed. “It’s a bit of a monument in the desert right now because it’s not going to be used as a prison,” Bowen stated.
The 1,800-bed prison project began in March 2004 when the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers awarded the contract to Pasadena, California-based Parsons, a construction and engineering company. The prison was supposed to be finished in November 2005. After numerous delays, work was suspended in June 2006 due to “continued schedule slips ... and massive cost overruns.” Parsons said the project was too dangerous to complete due to high levels of violence in the region.
Subsequent efforts to restart the project were unsuccessful, and the unfinished prison was eventually turned over to Iraq’s Justice Ministry. Due to substandard construction, including crumbling concrete and the improper use of reinforce-ment bars, some parts of the facility will have to be demolished.
Sayyed Rasoul al-Husseini, head of the Khan Bani Saad municipal council, described the failed prison project – which would have created 1,200 jobs – as “a big monster that’s swallowed money and hopes.” Which, ironically, is also an apt description of the penal system in the United States.
Sources: www.cnn.com, Associated Press
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