Why wasteful spending and war seem to go hand in hand

NATO soldiers board a Chinook helicopter after a security handover ceremony at a military academy outside Kabul on June 18, 2013.

We’ve spent about a $200 billion on wartime contracts for security, reconstruction, and other projects in Iraq and Afghanistan. A lot of it has been flat-out lost to waste or fraud. Wartime contracting reform is the subject of testimony in the Senate today. But war and wasteful spending have long gone hand in hand. It’s kindof a tale as old as time.

I suspect in the battle against the Barbarians, the Roman government probably investigated spear manufacturers,” says Gordon Adams, a professor of international relations at the School of International Service at American University. The reality is that when you’re in a wartime contracting situation, you’re spending money very fast... The purpose is the mission, not the audit.”

In its last report, The Commission on Wartime Contracting in Iraq and Afghanistan found up to $60 billion paid to contractors had been wasted, abused, or charged fraudulently. Since then other reports of waste have come in from the Special Inspectors General for Iraq and Afghanistan Reconstruction.

Charles Tiefer served on the bipartisan commission. He’s also a professor of government contracting at the University of Baltimore Law School.

“We went into these wars with a terribly stripped down government workforce of the people who monitor government contracts,” he says.

Tiefer says defense auditors did great, but needed more support. Which leaves Iraq and Afghanistan with a bunch of facilities that will never be used, or in some cases, even finished.

About the author

Kate Davidson is a regular contributor to Marketplace.

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