The occupation and reconstruction of Iraq has been beset by scandals — hundreds of millions of dollars wasted, misspent, stolen — and the fact that so many of them have come to light is due largely to Stuart Bowen, the special inspector general for the reconstruction and his team of 55 investigators on the ground in Iraq.
But Bowen and his people have been told to shut up shop next October thanks to a provision quietly slipped into a defense bill by House Republicans without discussion or even the knowledge of many lawmakers. Bowen has embarrassed some powerful interests — the Bush administration; huge contractors, including Vice President Cheney’s old firm; the military; the old Coalition Provisional Authority, which somehow lost track of $9 billion; and perhaps even some members of Congress.
And even though Bowen is a Republican with close ties to the Bush family, there is probably no lack of people who won’t be sorry to see him go. But he and his auditors have saved the taxpayers $400 million by one measure.
There are other inspectors general — at the State and Defense departments — that have some oversight responsibility in Iraq, but they lack the numbers, the expertise and the single-focus mandate of Bowen’s operation.
There is some feeling that the war may be winding down by next October and a special inspector general would not be needed. This is wishful thinking (see Amos N. Guiora’s commentary “Defining the mission” in Sunday’s Perspective section). Spending on the Iraq war, depending how it’s calculated, exceeds $7 billion a month and is rising. And the eventual withdrawal itself will be a hugely expensive operation. And all that money and activity bear close watching.
The lame-duck Congress could brighten its otherwise dismal record and do a favor for the taxpayer by extending the life of the special inspector general’s office — indefinitely.