September 23rd, 2010
06:00 PM ET

Senators want Afghanistan contract watchdog removed

Four US senators called on President Obama to fire the man watching over tens of billions of dollars for reconstruction of Afghanistan.

The one Democrat and three Republicans said they want Arnold Fields dismissed as Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR).

"It has been clear for several months that SIGAR's mission is not being served effectively…. SIGAR would be better served with new leadership," the letter to Mr. Obama states.

The four Senators signing the letter were Claire McCaskill (D-MO), Tom Coburn (R-OK), Susan Collins (R-ME), and Charles Grassley (R-IA). The letter indicated the senators had written twice previously about concerns regarding the agency.

"We urge you to act now," the letter said. "We are disappointed by your Administration's ongoing failure to take decisive action to make changes at SIGAR," the Senators wrote.

A spokeswoman for SIGAR said Fields had been on a plane to Afghanistan Thursday and was not immediately available for comment.

The Senators' demand for Fields ouster comes amidst growing concerns about corruption in Afghanistan and the inability of the US to keep track of how the billions of dollars it has invested in reconstruction are spent. The U.S. taxpayer spent more than $51-billion on Afghanistan reconstruction between 2002 and 2010, with much of that going to training Afghanistan security forces. President Obama's recent budget requests asked for an additional $20-billion, according to the SIGAR website.

An earlier audit of SIGAR by Inspectors General from other federal agencies found it fell short of some professional standards. Fields himself had requested that audit which was unusual for such a young agency, one formed only in 2008.

"We observed deficiencies and significant noncompliance with these standards," that report said from the Council of Inspectors General on Integrity and Efficiency.

The Senators said the report found numerous problems with SIGAR's work.

"The reviews also found that the agency has no meaningful strategic plan for their audits and investigations and that leadership at SIGAR remains more concerned with the quantity of their work rather than the quality," the senators said in their letter.

In a letter for Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Defense Secretary Robert Gates, Fields says he has accepted all the recommendations in the report, calling them "invaluable in helping us operate more efficiently and effectively."

He said in that August 6th letter on the SIGAR website that many changes had been made already and that he expected all to be addressed by the end of this month.

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