Waste and Inefficiency Pervasive in Afghanistan and Iraq Defense Contracts

Mary Kaszynski
Afghanistan Study Group Blogger

Waste and inefficiency in defense contracts has resulted in the loss of billions of dollars in Iraq and Afghanistan, according to the recently released final report of the Commission on Wartime Contracting. The report, which highlights the need to improve oversight and transparency, caused contingency contracting to move up the list of targets as a target for cost-saving reforms. But while all eyes are on wartime contracting, we may be losing sight of the bigger picture – the total cost.

The bipartisan commission has published several special reports since its establishment in 2008, so its conclusion was not unexpected. Still, the numbers are staggering: at least $31 billion, and as much as $60 billion, spent on contracts in Iraq and Afghanistan has been lost to waste and fraud.

With contracting costs running over $200 billion since FY 2002, this means a loss of one out of every six dollars. It means a loss of $12 million per day over the past ten years.

It’s bad enough to think that billions of dollars could just disappear. But with war funds, the stakes are even higher. As the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction noted in a July report, money “lost” in Iraq and Afghanistan may be finding its way into the hands of insurgents.

As efforts continue to find savings in the defense budget, reports of waste and inefficiencies is big news on the Hill. One congressman is already preparing legislation to create a permanent inspector general to oversee contingency operations. Citing the contracting report as evidence of the need to improve oversight and transparency, Rep. John Tierney (D-MA) said in a press release, “The kind of waste we have witnessed in Iraq and Afghanistan cannot be repeated.”

Rep. Tierney’s call for greater scrutiny of wartime contracting is a step in the right direction. By focusing exclusively on overhauling the contracting system, it’s easy to lose sight of the larger goal, fiscal responsibility, in all areas of government, including defense.

$60 billion is a lot of money. And it’s only a fraction of the amount we’ve invested in Iraq and Afghanistan (over $2.3 trillion, according to a recent study that takes indirect costs such as veterans care into account).

The war in Afghanistan is far from over. This is true on the ground – ASG blogger Edward Kenney writes from Kabul that “If “freedom of movement” is a good metric to determine success of the counter insurgency, we are the ones who are losing.” It’s true by the numbers – according to the contracting report, there are currently about 99,300 US troops in Afghanistan, plus an additional 90,339 contractors. And it’s certainly true in terms of sacrifice – how could we forget that August was the deadliest month yet for US troops in Afghanistan?

If we’re serious about cutting government spending, then making contracting dollars more efficient is a good first step. But we should really be looking at the trillion-dollar war as a whole. Targeting “waste, fraud, and abuse” in areas like contingency contracting is a good start. Making real inroads into reducing the deficit will require more: it will require a definitive, rapid drawdown in Afghanistan.

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One Response to Waste and Inefficiency Pervasive in Afghanistan and Iraq Defense Contracts

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