Sunday, July 30, 2006

More Good News Out of Iraq!

BAGHDAD, Iraq, July 29 - The State Department agency in charge of $1.4 billion in reconstruction money in Iraq used an accounting shell game to hide ballooning cost overruns on its projects there and knowingly withheld information on schedule delays from Congress, a federal audit released late Friday has found.

The [United States Agency for International Development] hid construction overruns by listing them as overhead or administrative costs, according to the audit, written by the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction, an independent office that reports to Congress, the Pentagon and the State Department...

The findings appeared in an audit of a children's hospital in Basra, but they referred to the wider reconstruction activities of the development agency in Iraq.
But they asked permission to count it that way:

In March 2005, A.I.D. asked the Iraq Reconstruction and Management Office at the United States Embassy in Baghdad for permission to downsize some projects to ease widespread financing problems. In its request, it said that it had to "absorb greatly increased construction costs" at the Basra hospital and that it would make a modest shift of priorities and reduce "contractor overhead" on the project.

The embassy office approved the request. But the audit found that the agency interpreted the document as permission to change reporting of costs across its program.

Referring to the embassy office's approval, the inspector general wrote, "The memorandum was not intended to give U.S.A.I.D. blanket permission to change the reporting of all indirect costs."
I wonder if some former Enron executives were involved.

The report said it suspected that other unreported costs on the hospital could drive the tab even higher. In another case cited in the report, a power station project in Musayyib, the direct construction cost cited by the development agency was $6.6 million, while the overhead cost was $27.6 million.

One result is that the project's overhead, a figure that normally runs to a maximum of 30 percent, was a stunning 418 percent.
Meanwhile, Sergeant Lucas Murray managed to build a playground for Iraqi kids using no Federal funds at all:

The constant weapons raids and roadside bomb explosions began to weigh on the mind of Sergeant Lucas Murray during his year in Iraq. Watching local children play soccer, with artillery shells marking the goals, made the Boston parks architect think he could make a lasting contribution to the community simply by doing what he did for a living back home.

He built a playground.

With donations from a playground equipment company and muscle from friends in the National Guard, he constructed the park he had dreamed of, giving the children of Abraham Jaffas, north of Baghdad, somewhere to play other than trash heaps in a town still devastated from the invasion three years ago.

"The children of Iraq are the ones we want to grow up seeing us as the good guys, as opposed to an organization that came in to remove a dictator and left them worse off," Murray said. "This was my strategy for helping the war effort on a humanitarian level. We built something permanent to leave behind."
I'm thinking we put Murray in charge of reconstruction and there might actually be some hope for Iraq.


The Basra hospital mentioned was championed by Laura Bush and Condoleeza Rice. This is what Dr. Chasib Latif Ali, executive director of the Health Ministry, said about that project and others:

"The Americans have made a lot of promises to us, but not even 10 percent of them have materialized."

He said that, of nearly 180 medical facilities promised by the U.S., contracts were awarded for 142. Only six have been completed and turned over to the Iraqis and those "are not even fully complete."

"This comes as a sharp contrast to the Japanese," Ali said. "They have promised and delivered 13 hospitals around the country, including three cutting-edge cancer centers. The Japanese have been very faithful to us, unfortunately, the Americans aren't like that."
I guess the problem is that we promised too much to the Iraqis. Maybe if we promised 6 hospitals to them and 136 to Bechtel, we could have delivered. Or we could have promised playgrounds to the Iraqis. Now, there's an idea!

Bomb their infrastructure to kingdom come and then build playgrounds. That'll work!

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