It is seldom really shocking to hear that a government agency has wasted large sums of money, or spent it in ways that would be viewed as sloppy or even criminal in the private sector. After a certain number of examples, one is almost beyond being scandalized.
How does it happen? A government agency relies on money seized from taxpayers, with the unspoken assumption that there’s always plenty more where that came from. And imprudent or foolish spending hardly ever leads to a government agency going out of business; if anything, a failed mission often is used to justify a larger budget.
That said, we’re not yet sufficiently jaded to ignore a report from the special inspector general for Iraq reconstruction suggesting that $8.8 billion spent by the now-defunct Coalition Provisional Authority over some nine months last year simply can’t be accounted for.
After looking at the inspector general’s report, along with responses from CPA chief L. Paul Bremer and the Pentagon, there’s little reason to believe the worst — that the money, for example, was funneled into secret Swiss banks. But the problems were bad enough.
Briefly, the authority was in charge of transferring money from a development fund for Iraq to the interim Iraqi government. The audit report says the Coalition Provisional Authority “did not establish or implement sufficient managerial, financial and contractual controls to ensure (Iraqi development) funds were used in a transparent manner. Consequently, there was no assurance the funds were used for purposes mandated by (UN) Resolution 1483.”
For example, at one interim Iraqi government ministry there were 8,206 guards on the payroll, but only 602 could be accounted for. At another ministry, 1,417 guards were on payroll, but records searches could only document 642 of them.
Now it’s true, as the report acknowledges, that the Coalition Provisional Authority was set up on the fly, and that at the beginning it didn’t have even a semblance of an Iraqi government to deal with. Bremer’s response emphasized that its mandate was to move toward full Iraqi control of funds, not to micromanage the emerging Iraqi government. And a case can be made that simply spreading money around to Iraqis, whether they were doing actual work for the interim government or not, was a way to buy social stability and neutralize insurgent attitudes.
Even taking those factors into account, however, the inspector general’s office contends that “the (Coalition Provisional Authority) management … was burdened by severe inefficiencies and poor management.”
That sounds like an understatement. But a certain atmosphere of improvisation, along with spotty accountability, is to be expected when you decide to occupy another country without much of a Plan A — and no Plan B if things don’t go well.