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Unity urged on war rebuilding

The State and Defense departments should be forced to join forces in the future to avoid an Iraq repeat, a study says.

March 22, 2007|Julian E. Barnes | Times Staff Writer

WASHINGTON — Congress should force the State and Defense departments to cooperate in planning and overseeing any future wartime reconstruction to prevent the kind of problems that befouled rebuilding efforts in Iraq, according to an investigative report to be issued today.

The failure of a comprehensive, unified planning effort before the Iraq invasion -- and shifting oversight of the reconstruction program afterward -- hindered America's ability to effectively rebuild Iraq, says the report by the special inspector general for Iraq reconstruction.

"Those planning programs shouldn't be balkanized; they should be unified," said Stuart W. Bowen Jr., the special inspector general. "There is fairly universal agreement that the United States government was not well poised to execute the kind of relief and reconstruction operation that was presented in Iraq."

The report outlines the continuing problems in planning and overseeing Iraq reconstruction. Bowen said reform should be modeled on the 1986 Goldwater-Nichols Act that forced the Air Force, Army and Navy to better coordinate how they fought wars.

Bowen said he was not advocating any specific changes or new positions. Instead, he said, he is recommending that Congress find a way to ensure that the State and Defense departments and the U.S. Agency for International Development, or USAID, have "unity of command" when it comes to wartime rebuilding.

Though the inspector general has issued a series of audits of specific rebuilding projects outlining waste and failures, the report takes a broader look to suggest how the overall rebuilding efforts and oversight can be improved.

The special inspector general for Iraq reconstruction was created by Congress in 2004.

Bowen will release the report today at a hearing of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee. Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.), the committee chairman, and Sen. Susan Collins of Maine, the ranking Republican, voiced support Wednesday for the proposals, at least in theory.

"I agree ... that the State and Defense departments and USAID must work together much more effectively on post-conflict reconstruction, and I will examine possible legislative fixes to achieve that goal," Lieberman said in a statement.

Collins, in a statement, said the special inspector general had uncovered "disturbing cases of egregious mismanagement, and in some cases, outright fraud" in Iraq reconstruction support. In addition to considering a Goldwater-Nichols style reform, Collins said she was pushing for broad legislation to revamp government procurement.

"These reforms would help ensure that the American taxpayers receive the best value and would curb many of the abuses" cited by the inspector general, Collins said.

The report said Iraq reconstruction was hampered by shifts in leadership and oversight when the State Department took over from the Pentagon-run Coalition Provisional Authority. Projects were complicated by several changes in spending priorities that "profoundly affected" the reconstruction.

"Managers found it difficult to implement projects in an atmosphere of continuously shifting priorities," the report said.

Bowen said the report was not meant to assign blame but to outline changes that could make future reconstruction efforts more effective.

"The story of Iraq reconstruction is a mixed story -- there have been successes and there have been failures," Bowen said.

In addition to better coordination between the State and Defense departments, the report advocates other changes in nation-building endeavors. Possible reforms include better integrating the local population in reconstruction projects, providing more flexibility for rebuilding efforts to allow for unforeseen needs and creating a better mix of short-term and long-term projects.

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julian.barnes@latimes.com

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