Iraq auditor offers advice on lessons learned

The federal government’s chief auditor in Iraq offered some advice to the Obama administration on post-conflict reconstruction in a Tuesday speech before a Yale Law School audience.

Stuart Bowen, the special inspector general for Iraq reconstruction, discussed “Hard Lessons,” a book his office recently published detailing the misuse of reconstruction funds in Iraq. Bowen needled the Bush administration on several points, including what he called inadequate pre-war planning for the reconstruction of Iraq, the lack of a dedicated reconstruction bureau and the government’s heavy reliance on third-party contractors in the region.

Stuart Bowen discusses Iraq’s future and the challenges facing the Obama administration at a talk at the Yale Law School Tuesday. He has visited Iraq 21 times, and plans to travel there again next week.
Eva Galvan
Stuart Bowen discusses Iraq’s future and the challenges facing the Obama administration at a talk at the Yale Law School Tuesday. He has visited Iraq 21 times, and plans to travel there again next week.

Bowen described the 357-page report, whose compilation he oversaw, as “perhaps the most comprehensive lessons-learned account in government history.”

The book investigates how taxpayer dollars were mismanaged in Iraq and how future administrations can avoid the same mistakes. In “Hard Lessons,” Bowen’s office argues for stricter government oversight with respect to construction and utilities projects, which ran significantly over-budget in Iraq.

Bowen called himself the “taxpayer’s watchdog” in his remarks, adding that his goal was to relate information to the American public. Bowen’s office monitors the administration of funds and the progress of rebuilding efforts in Iraq, he said, and tries to uncover corruption and inefficiencies in the process. After major combat operations ended in the country, Bowen said his office realized their were major shortcomings in how disparate governmental departments approached the challenges of post-invasion Iraq.

“The US State Department is very good at managing a pre-conflict situation, and the Department of Defense is maybe the best at managing conflict,” Bowen said. “But for post-conflict or contingency operations, there’s no established system.”

Bowen said he has led 250 audits over the last five years and views this book as the most accurate and accessible record of his findings.

“The overarching conclusion of the report is that there is a need for reform within our government to ensure that there is a framework for and resources to support contingency and relief operations,” Bowen said.

Bowen said he is optimistic about the future of Iraq. The elections of Jan. 31 were successful, he said, a sign that democracy is beginning to take hold. But the advent of a democratic Iraq does not spell the end of Bowen’s tenure in the troubled country, he said. He leaves for his 22nd visit to Iraq next Tuesday.

Susan Rose-Ackerman, a professor of law and political science, invited Bowen to speak at the Law School. She encouraged her students to attend the talk, she said, and to view Iraq as both a contemporary example of corruption in democracy and as a case of wealthy countries aiding developing nations.

Bowen’s address drew 30 people — including students, professors and members of the greater New Haven community. William Johnston, a West Haven police officer, said he came in part because he believes that lessons learned in Iraq will soon be relevant in Afghanistan.

“This is our country, and our money being spent,” he said. “It’s an especially important issue right now because the situation in Afghanistan is getting worse.”

Bowen said he recently gave a copy of “Hard Lessons” to the office of the Special Investigator General for Afghanistan Reconstruction. The report was written primarily by senior SIGIR writers Victoria Butler and Christopher Kirchhoff, though Bowen oversaw the report’s compilation.

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