A rule was abandoned by the Bush administration which did ban companies involved in fraud charges for contracted services from doing continued business with the government and created both a lack of oversight and a lack of punishment, and has allowed for a minimum of $10 billion in waste and fraud in reconstruction in Iraq.
These reports - which mean devastation to timetables for improving U.S. efforts in Iraq - barely make a blip in the national media, busy reporting on snowfall, celebrity makeovers, and American Idol contestants. It's a story that isn't easy to understand and the media does nothing to increase that understanding.
Since nearly a third of that ten billion is in overcharges and waste from Halliburton - using that rule created by the Clinton administration would have meant that the company, once headed by Vice President Cheney, would have been dropped from use.
Even the conservative Washington Times has reported this near-outlaw raid on tax dollars and that the risk of more waste and fraud remains to this day:
"That problem could worsen, the Government Accountability Office said, given limited improvement so far by the Department of Defense even as the Bush administration prepares to boost the U.S. presence in Iraq.
David M. Walker, comptroller general of the GAO, Congress' auditing arm, said his agency has been pointing out problems for years, only to be largely ignored or given lip service with little result.
"There is no accountability," Mr. Walker said. "Organizations charged with overseeing contracts are not held accountable. Contractors are not held accountable. The individuals responsible are not held accountable.
"People should be rewarded when they do a good job. But when things don't go right, there have to be consequences," he said.
A spokeswoman for the Army, which handles most of the Iraq contracting, did not have immediate comment.
Senate Democrats, calling recently cited cases of waste "outrageous rip-offs of the American taxpayer," quickly moved to introduce legislation yesterday to stiffen punishment for war profiteers and cut down on cronyism in contracting.
The bill, sponsored by Sen. Byron L. Dorgan, North Dakota Democrat, and 22 other senators, would impose penalties of up to 20 years in prison and fines of up to $1 million for war profiteering and restore a rule that prohibits awarding federal contracts to companies exhibiting a pattern of breaking the law in performance of government contracts.
That rule, put in place by President Clinton, was dropped by the Bush administration upon taking office, Mr. Dorgan said.
The auditors' joint appearance before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee comes as Congress is preparing for a showdown with President Bush next month over his budget request of nearly $100 billion to pay for more U.S. troops in Iraq. "
Will any officials in the Tennessee delegation demand immediate improvements? Cetainly, as House Democrats get ready to review spending on the war in Iraq, these huge amounts of waste will provide them a strong argument for limits on spending.
Next week President Bush will visit Tennessee, as will newly-elected Senator Bob Corker -- though their appearances are tied to drumming up support for more of the same failed policies, not for improving accountability.