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Effort to reduce government waste gaining traction in Senate

The five-year effort by U.S. Sens. Jim Webb and Claire McCaskill to increase accountability and crack down on waste, fraud, and abuse of taxpayer dollars in contracting during overseas contingency operations has gained new bipartisan support.

On Wednesday Webb and McCaskill introduced a strengthened version of their Comprehensive Contingency Contracting Reform Act, with original cosponsors Joe Lieberman and Susan Collins—the Chairman and Ranking Republican Member, respectively, of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee— along with Senators Al Franken, Richard Blumenthal, and Bernie Sanders.

The legislation, first introduced on February 29, 2012, builds on the recommendations of the U.S. Commission on Wartime Contracting in Iraq and Afghanistan—an independent, bipartisan panel that Webb and McCaskill created through legislation they introduced in 2007.

“This bipartisan legislation affirms the important work that has been done by the great majority of our wartime-support contractors,” said Webb, who served as a combat Marine in Vietnam, an Assistant Secretary of Defense and Secretary of the Navy. “At the same time it recognizes the necessity to improve government management and accountability in the contracting process that resulted in unacceptable costs, excessive waste, and substandard performance in far too many areas. Extensive engagement with principal stakeholders in recent months–including the contracting community, federal agencies, and the Armed Services Committee—has allowed us to refine and strengthen the bill in a number of important ways.”

“During a time when government is tightening its belt, we’ve seen billions of dollars wasted in Iraq and Afghanistan”, said McCaskill, a former Missouri State Auditor.  “It’s time to use the roadmap provided by the Commission to completely change the way our government contracts during wartime, to make sure these failures are never repeated, and to better protect taxpayer dollars. As I said when this bill was first introduced, it’s been seventy years since Harry Truman and the Truman Committee presented their first report to Congress, and accountability in government is still a Missouri value I’m proud to fight for in the Senate.”

“With this bill, we are taking a significant step towards implementing the lessons learned from the Commission on Wartime Contracting Report,” said Collins, ranking member on the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee. “This bill would improve planning, execution, and oversight of contracting to support future overseas contingency operations. Over the past 10 years, we have learned that our contracting operations in Iraq and Afghanistan have been plagued by high levels of waste, fraud, and abuse. Some of the examples are almost too astonishing to believe. For example, a July 2011 special inspector general report found that a Defense Department contractor was charging $900 for a control switch that was worth a mere $7. How well we execute wartime contracting helps to determine how well we build the peace. In my view, we must do better by institutionalizing lessons learned in Afghanistan and Iraq to strengthen future overseas contingency operations.”

“Contracting in support of our war efforts too often has been carried out by the seat of our pants,” said Lieberman, Chairman of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee. “Poor planning and sloppy oversight of contractors only lead to wasteful projects.  This bill will establish clear lines of responsibility within the government for carrying out wartime contracting and will also help ensure that we don’t do business with contractors who perform poorly or engage in misconduct.”

“It’s unacceptable that billions of taxpayer dollars were squandered in Iraq and Afghanistan during a time when some Minnesotans had to decide between putting food on the table or going to the doctors,” Franken said. “The enhanced oversight and accountability that this bill requires of wartime contracts is a big step forward in the fight to prevent future misuse of taxpayer dollars. I’m also pleased that Sen. McCaskill included my End Trafficking in Government Contracting Act in the bill. I applaud Sen. McCaskill’s efforts to get this necessary legislation passed in the Senate and am proud to support this bill.”

“Very simply, this measure would prevent contractors who do business with the United States from engaging in human trafficking,” Blumenthal said. “Modern-day slavery by government contractors, who are unknowingly funded by American taxpayers, is unconscionable and intolerable and this legislation would take steps to end it by increasing federal scrutiny and oversight. Taxpayer money shouldn’t be wasted on egregious human rights abuses.”

“With the country running a $15.7 trillion national debt and fundamental rights like education, health care and access to the legal system on the chopping block, the ugly truth is that the American taxpayer has been systematically fleeced by wartime mercenaries who have proven again and again that they cannot be trusted with taxpayer dollars,” Sanders said. “With hundreds of billions of dollars of taxpayer money at stake, I applaud the work of Senators McCaskill and Webb in drafting this bill to implement the recommendations of the wartime contracting Commission, and I urge my fellow members of Congress to adopt these basic and essential safeguards as soon as possible.”

The Commission—modeled after the “Truman Committee,” which investigated waste and fraud during World War II and issued its first report to Congress in 1942—spent three years investigating contracts in Iraq and Afghanistan. In its final report to Congress, issued last August, the panel estimated that the U.S. had squandered up to $60 billion through contract waste and fraud in Iraq and Afghanistan. The Commission identified major failures in contingency contracting planning, execution and oversight within the government. It concluded such waste will increase if accountability is not improved as U.S. operations in Iraq and Afghanistan wind down, support for programs declines, and major reconstruction projects become unsustainable.