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Congress eyes lost billions sent to Iraq

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The swimming pool at the new Iraq police academy in the Baghdad Green Zone is an impressive, Olympic-size facility. It might be a good place to relax after a day spent training to face Iraq's dangers.

The problem is, the US Department of State – which paid for the academy and an adjacent residential camp – never authorized construction of the pool. Nor did it OK the purchase of 20 extra VIP trailers for the camp.

In total, about $4.2 million of the $43.8 million in US funds spent on the camp went to work that wasn't properly approved, according to a January report by the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction (SIGIR).

Because of this and other examples of alleged contractor waste or abuse in Iraq, Congress is now considering reforms to the US reconstruction spending process.

On March 15, the House voted to place new limits on no-bid US government contracts. And on March 20 the Senate Judiciary Committee is scheduled to hold a hearing on whether the US is doing enough to combat war profiteering.

Judiciary Committee chairman Sen. Patrick Leahy (D) of Vermont introduced antiprofiteering legislation in January, soon after ascending to the post.

"Our government cannot in good faith ask its people to sacrifice for reconstruction efforts that allow some to profit unfairly," Mr. Leahy said at the time.

Projects with problems

The swimming pool from nowhere is one documented example of the kinds of things that have gone wrong with US spending in Iraq, according to government auditors.

During construction of the police training facilities, Iraqi Ministry of Interior officials asked for the swimming pool and the extra VIP housing, and the contractors complied, said the SIGIR study. But the US State Department, which was paying the bills for the academy's construction, was not consulted.


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