A Better St. Louis. Powered by Journalism.
  • Twitter
  • Facebook
  • Print
  • Email

McCaskill vows to probe administration's interference in inspector's work

In Washington

11:36 am on Fri, 05.10.13

WASHINGTON – Are government agencies trying to suppress or soften reports of waste and corruption in how billions of taxpayer dollars are spent on projects in Afghanistan?

That’s the assertion of the top U.S. auditor for Afghanistan reconstruction. And U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill – who pressured the White House to force out one of his predecessors for being too lax in his audits – is vowing to probe the new allegations.

Claire McCaskill
Claire McCaskill

“Our inspectors general are the eyes and ears of taxpayers within each federal agency – they’re the ones protecting our tax dollars from waste, and they’re the ones to call out federal officials for abuse of power,” McCaskill, D-Mo., said Friday.

McCaskill, a former Missouri state auditor, sent a letter to the current Afghanistan inspector-general, John F. Sopko, asking for more details. She said she would “bring this fight to every corner of the federal government” to stop any efforts by the administration to suppress audit results.

In a talk this week at the non-partisan New America Foundation, Sopko complained that officials at federal agencies have asked to screen or edit – and, in some instances, stop publicizing – audits that detail examples of waste and corruption in the use of U.S dollars in Afghanistan.

“Over the last 10 months, I have been criticized by some bureaucrats for not pre-clearing my press releases with them, for not letting them edit the titles of my audits, for talking too much to Congress, for talking too much to the press … and, basically, for not being a ‘team player’ – and undermining our country’s mission in Afghanistan,” Sopko said.

Sopko, a professional auditor and former counsel to U.S. House investigative panels, was named last year as the latest Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR). He has tripled the number of SIGAR audits and has been more aggressive than his predecessors in his oversight of the $93 billion spent so far to implement reconstruction projects in Afghanistan – including about $54 billion to bolster the Afghan National Army and its federal police.

His office’s most recent audits have criticized the government for faulty planning in spending $5 million for unused incinerators and the continued use of hazardous open-air burn pits and poor management by U.S. agencies of the $88 million spent to help commercialize Afghanistan’s national power utility.

“I am not a cheerleader. I’m a watchdog. It is my job to point out what isn’t working, so it can be fixed. To do it any other way is to just muddle along and then nothing will change,” Sopko said in his talk.

“Many in our government, even some surprisingly senior officials you think would know better, seem to believe that an inspector general should be their partner — or, more correctly, their silent partner,” he added.

Afghan President Hamid Karzai
Afghan President Hamid Karzai

“In their opinion, my reports should be slipped in a sealed envelope in the dead of night under the door — never to see the light of day -- because those reports could embarrass the administration, embarrass President (Hamid) Karzai, embarrass Afghanistan.”

While the vast federal PR apparatus has long been adept at stifling or softening the impact of bad news, McCaskill said Friday that such political pressure was inappropriate when applied to auditors or inspectors whom Congress has asked to be independent.

“Their work is what can give the American people confidence that their government is functioning the way it should,” McCaskill said in a statement provided to the Beacon. “And if their independence is being threatened with political interference, then I’m going to bring this fight to every corner of the federal government, to protect the integrity of their work.”

In general, spokespeople for federal agencies say they appreciate audits. “We value inputs from independent oversight, including from inspectors general, who play a key role in advancing the missions of the Department of Defense,” the Pentagon’s chief spokesman told Politico.

But McCaskill said it was not surprising that the three federal agencies whose Afghanistan spending is overseen by SIGAR – the Pentagon, State Department and Agency for International Development – might be apprehensive about investigations by an independent watchdog like SIGAR. All three of those agencies lack a permanent inspector general at the moment, with the State post vacant for five years and the other two left unfilled since 2011.

“I find it appalling that these people have not been appointed,” McCaskill said at a Senate hearing last year, adding that “there is a long list of qualified people to hold these jobs.”

SIGAR seal
SIGAR seal

McCaskill, who chairs the Senate Homeland Security subcommittee on financial and contracting oversight, has held several hearings about waste and mismanagement of reconstruction contracts in Afghanistan. Late in 2010, McCaskill ripped into then-SIGAR Arnold Fields for lax oversight and called on the White House to name another auditing watchdog.

Fields left about a month later, and – after another SIGAR’s relatively brief tenure – Sopko took over the post last year. Since then, he has stepped up the number of probes and audits by about threefold. So far, SIGAR has made more than 70 recommendations to government agencies that, in theory, would save nearly $500 million if carried out.

Sopko said he wants the U.S. effort in Afghanistan to be successful and emphasized that the audits were meant to be constructive. “I believe in the mission” in Afghanistan, he told the New America Foundation, “but I believe in a mission that’s done correctly.”

“I believe in a mission that doesn’t end up just diverting the money to some warlord or terrorist or to Dubai.” He added that “the American people can take bad news” as long as they feel the government is being honest about its oversight.

“We have spent more money on Afghanistan than we have spent on any other country in the world – even Germany post World War II,” he said. 

No Comments

Join The Beacon

When you register with the Beacon, you can save your searches as news alerts, rsvp for events, manage your donations and receive news and updates from the Beacon team.

Register Now

Already a Member

Getting around the new site

Take a look at our tutorials to help you get the hang of the new site.

Most Discussed Articles By Beacon Members

Conference of American nuns will mull response to Vatican charges

In Nation

7:55 am on Fri, 08.03.12

Meeting in St. Louis next week, the Leadership Conference of Women Religious will have its first opportunity as an assembled group to consider what to do after the Vatican issued a mandate for change this spring. It calls on the conference to reorganize and more strictly observe church teachings.

The 'free' Zoo

In Commentary

7:51 am on Tue, 05.22.12

When a family of four goes to the St. Louis Zoo, they can be forgiven for not knowing it will cost them $60, $72 if they park. If they can't pay, the alternative is to tell the kids they can't do what kids do at the zoo.

Featured Articles

House sends Boeing incentive bill to Nixon

In Economy

12:55 pm on Fri, 12.06.13

The Missouri House easily passed legislation aimed at attracting production of the 777x, a move that wraps up a legislative special session that saw little suspense and few surprises. The bill now goes to Gov. Jay Nixon, who has strongly supported the legislation.

Gandhi inspired Mandela on South Africa's 'Long Road to Freedom'

In World

10:10 am on Fri, 12.06.13

Nelson Mandela, who died Thursday at the age of 95, was a towering moral figure of the 20th century -- along with Mahatma Gandhi. It was no coincidence that Gandhi and Mandela, whose paths never crossed directly, both embarked on their campaigns against discrimination in South Africa. It was when Mandela won election as South Africa’s first black president that Gandhi's influence became apparent.

Featured Articles

Regina Carter brings jazz and therapy to Children's Hospital

6:36 am on Mon, 12.09.13

One night, the violinist is taking bows before a standing ovation at Jazz at the Bistro. The next afternoon, some of her audience may have trouble standing, but the kids in the playroom at Children's Hospital were no less appreciative. “Jazz is medicine personified," according to a doctor who brings in the jazz musicians.

Encore: Dead before death

In Performing Arts

12:58 am on Fri, 12.06.13

For years , the author was certain he would never come to appreciate The Grateful Dead, let alone be a Deadhead. But little by little, he's come around. He talks about his conversion and relates a real evolution: by a musician who went on to play with the Schwag, a Dead cover band.

Featured Articles

Schlichter honored with St. Louis Award

In Region

4:57 pm on Tue, 12.03.13

The attorney has founded Arch Grants, which brings together nonprofit philanthropy and commercially viable opportunitiesto fund new business startups, and Mentor St. Louis, which finds adult mentors for elementary students in the St. Louis Public School System. He was the driving force behind the state's historic tax credit program.

BioGenerator sets open house to celebrate new digs for entrepreneurs-in-residence

In InnovationSTL

12:29 pm on Tue, 11.12.13

BioSTL's BioGenerator organization is on the move as its entrepreneurs-in-residence find a new home in 4,300 square feet of office and conference space in an old automobile factory. The blossoming program, which helps BioGenerator's portfolio companies to get off the ground, continues to pay dividends within the growing biotech community.

Ambassadors aim to soften rough landing for St. Louis immigrants

In InnovationSTL

6:34 am on Fri, 11.08.13

The St. Louis Mosaic Project is set to hold an orientation for its new ambassadors -- dozens of foreign and native-born volunteers who aim to help make the community a more welcoming place for those from other nations. Participants will be expected to do everything from visiting local restaurants serving international cuisine to having dinner with an immigrant to the area.

Recent Articles

More Articles

Innovation and entrepreneurial activity are on the rise in St. Louis, especially in bioscience, technology and alternative energy. The Beacon's InnovationSTL section focuses on the people who are part of this wave, what they're doing and how this is shaping our future. To many St. Louisans, this wave is not yet visible. InnovationSTL aims to change that. We welcome you to share your knowledge, learn more about this vibrant trend and discuss its impact.

Featured Articles

Regina Carter brings jazz and therapy to Children's Hospital

6:36 am on Mon, 12.09.13

One night, the violinist is taking bows before a standing ovation at Jazz at the Bistro. The next afternoon, some of her audience may have trouble standing, but the kids in the playroom at Children's Hospital were no less appreciative. “Jazz is medicine personified," according to a doctor who brings in the jazz musicians.

Featured Articles

Featured Events:

More About The Beacon Home