Through small steps, Congress is mandating a big increase in oversight of war-related spending in Iraq and Afghanistan, but a surge of oversight personnel in Iraq is prompting turf fights among inspectors general.
Though bureaucratic battles among overseers are not new, IG employees and congressional aides said disputes over authority to audit contracts in Iraq have sharpened recently.
"IGs are definitely fighting over turf, and who will do which audit," a former senior oversight official in Iraq said.
In the FY08 defense authorization bill, Congress created a Special Committee on War and Reconstruction Contracting and a special inspector general for Afghanistan reconstruction, modeled on the independent special inspector general for Iraq reconstruction, whose purview Congress expanded in the bill.
Lawmakers are also adding funding for other IGs abroad.
The FY09 defense authorization bill passed by the House gives the Pentagon IG $273 million, $25 million more than the White House requested. The State Department IG budget increased by $4.1 million in FY08 to $34 million, and the office could get another $20 million in supplemental funds over two years.
The agencies are using added funds to ramp up oversight of war spending. The Pentagon IG, which focuses on military spending, since 2005 has been building up capacity in Iraq and Afghanistan. In 2004, the Defense IG had no permanent office and almost no personnel in either country but now has 64 auditors and 32 special agents who have worked in either location. Since 2006, the Defense IG has added field offices in Afghanistan, Kuwait, Qatar and Iraq.
The State IG opened its first-ever overseas office in Jordan in January and plans to eventually put 21 employees there overseeing department programs in Iraq and other Mideast states.
In an interview, Acting State Department IG Harold Geisel said after years of budget woes, his office is ready to step up audits of high risk, high dollar department programs, many of them in Iraq.
Since last fall, the office went from 13 to 37 investigators, he noted.
Giesel would not discuss interagency disputes. "I don't do bureaucratic battles," he said.
But other officials said permanent IG offices like State, by ramping up their Iraq presence, are butting heads with the special inspector general for Iraq reconstruction, which arrived first.
"SIGIR is constantly trying to expand its authority," said the former senior IG official. "State and DOD are now fighting back."
At issue are provisions in the FY08 defense authorization bill. The measure expanded SIGIR's authority over Iraq reconstruction money.
The bill said SIGIR "shall develop a comprehensive plan for a series of audits" of contracts and subcontracts related to Iraq reconstruction "in consultation with other" IGs with jurisdiction over those contracts.
An official at another IG office said Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction Stuart Bowen has used the language to try to dictate audit schedules of other agencies.
"He has taken [the defense bill language] to mean that ... our audit plans are for him to determine," said the official, who declined to be identified discussing a dispute. "That has caused a lot of gnashing of teeth."
SIGIR officials said they are simply following congressional instructions to coordinate audit planning and noted they regularly consult with other IG offices.
Discussions over work responsibilities are "a normal part of the process," said David Warren, SIGIR's Assistant Inspector General for Audits. "It's just like we would coordinate with GAO," Warren said.
Congress gave SIGIR oversight of contracts involving reconstruction funds in Iraq, while giving other IGs jurisdiction over contracts that often include reconstruction funding. That means "there is a legislatively designed overlap of authority," Warren said. "That's what the coordination process is all about."
Both SIGIR and State IG officials, however, acknowledge disagreement over SIGIR's power to independently audit contracts of State Department contractors in Iraq.
As Congress weighs measures restricting agencies' ability to use private contractors, SIGIR, under a defense authorization bill mandate, is planning a broad survey to identify all U.S. security contractors and subcontractors in Iraq.
In connection with that survey, SIGIR recently sent the State IG a letter outlining plans to audit security contractor Triple Canopy. State IG officials in response have said SIGIR lacks authority to audit the company, which has a State Department contract, and are announcing their own audit.
Though the two offices are jointly auditing the security contractor Blackwater Worldwide, SIGIR has declined to conduct future joint audits of State Department security contractors, State IG officials said. Warren said SIGIR is still deciding whether to work with the State IG on future audits.
Officials from both offices said they have had discussions with Senate and House Armed Services committee staffers and other committees regarding audit planning. One official involved in discussions said language clarifying audit responsibilities in Iraq might be added to the supplemental war spending bill awaiting a House vote.
A draft proposed language change provided to CongressDaily would alter a portion of the bill stating that funding for Iraq in the bill "shall primarily be the responsibility of SIGIR." The new version removes the word "primarily" and adds "the State OIG and the USAID OIG" to the end of the sentence.
While Congress might move to referee such disputes, several aides said some lawmakers are impatient with IG disagreements.
Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs ranking member Susan Collins a longtime backer of SIGIR, in a statement said that as long as taxpayer dollars are spent on rebuilding efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan that SIGIR, as well as "the newly established Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction, and other Inspectors General with oversight responsibilities, must work cooperatively to oversee these expenditures."
Sensitive to such concerns, officials at both SIGIR and State's IG office emphasized cooperation. "There's plenty of work for everybody," a State IG official said.
This article appears in the June 21, 2008, edition of National Journal Daily.