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US commission finds widespread waste and corruption in wartime contracts

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Manuel Balce Ceneta/AP

(Read caption) The co-chairs of the congressionally chartered Commission on Wartime Contracting in Iraq and Afghanistan, former Connecticut Rep. Christopher Shays, right, and Michael Thibault, take part in a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, August 31, to present their final report that summarizes more than two and a half years' work on waste and fraud in contracting.

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The US government’s over-reliance on wartime contractors in Iraq and Afghanistan has resulted in as much as $60 billion in waste and fraud – and it’s likely to worsen without reform.

That's the main message coming out of a new report from the bipartisan Commission on Wartime Contracting. The report suggests that contracting is more prone to waste than in-house spending because of the greater difficulty in overseeing the spending and the profit motive of the private contracting firms. (See the pdf of the report here).

Moreover, a different set of commitments tend to bring a contractor versus a soldier or State Department official into a conflict zone. In general, it's a little less for country, a little more for wallet.

“I am having a good war,” one American contractor told me in Kabul on a visit last year, admitting that the pay has been great, especially in a down US economy.

I have met some contractors who grew attached to Afghanistan, even setting up their own charitable organizations to help. But it is also true that there is a roving band of contractors who are on a circuit of conflict zones, jumping from contract to contract with few institutional or other long-term commitments. Sustainability, sense of mission, and quality can suffer.

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