Going Soft On Contractors?
But while some commentators tout private contactors as the possible “future of war,” it has become clear that some five years after President George W. Bush began the Iraq War, one of the key government agencies tasked with managing private contracts is bending under the weight of its responsibilities and misplaced priorities.
The auditing agency in charge of overseeing Department of Defense (DOD) contracts has been beset by serious problems that highlight the difficulty of managing private companies selling goods and services to the Pentagon—a problem that seems to have been exacerbated by the softball approach of former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, among other factors. Not all contracts in Iraq are negotiated with the DOD, but with the amount of money spent on the department’s Iraq-related contracts since 2003 fast approaching $100 billion, this lack of effective oversight is a significant problem.
According to a recent report by the Government Accountability Office (GAO), on several occasions auditors at the Pentagon’s Defense Contract Audit Agency (DCAA), who review contracts between providers of goods and services and the government, altered their findings to benefit contractors.
“Contractor officials and the DOD contracting community improperly influenced the audit scope, conclusions, and opinions of three audits—a serious independence issue,” the GAO stated in its report, which investigated DCAA audits conducted in several of its California field offices alleged to be faulty by auditors blowing the whistle.
The findings sparked outrage from Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-MO), a former state auditor who, with Sen. Jim Webb (D-VA), spearheaded efforts to establish the Commission on Wartime Contracting, created earlier this year. The DCAA’s “irresponsible actions” and oversight failure “could be the biggest auditing scandal in the history of [Washington, D.C.],” McCaskill said.
The Senate’s Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs plans to hold a hearing on DCAA on September 10, pointedly entitled, “Expediency Versus Integrity: Do Assembly-Line Audits at the Defense Contract Audit Agency Waste Taxpayer Dollars?”