When President Obama marked the end of combat operations in Iraq in a speech on August 31, 2010, he spoke at length on America’s lasting legacy in the country. Unfortunately for taxpayers, part of that legacy includes billions in waste, dating back to the beginning of the reconstruction effort in the country.
A recent Government Accountability Office report detailed $5 billion in waste associated with the rebuilding effort in Iraq, equivalent to approximately 10 percent of the $53.7 billion spent by the U.S. on reconstruction. This figure includes $165 million for an unused children’s hospital, a $100 million waste water treatment system in Fallujah that has had little effect on waste disposal in the city, and a $40 million prison that sits empty.
Unfortunately, that figure might prove to be on the low end of the actual amount wasted in Iraq. According to a recent Associated Press (AP) article:
That amount is likely an underestimate, based on an analysis of more than 300 reports by auditors with the special inspector general for Iraq reconstruction. And it does not take into account security costs, which have run almost 17 percent for some projects.
There are success stories. Hundreds of police stations, border forts and government buildings have been built, Iraqi security forces have improved after years of training, and a deepwater port at the southern oil hub of Umm Qasr has been restored.
But even completed projects for the most part fell far short of original goals, according to an Associated Press review of hundreds of audits and investigations and visits to several sites. And the verdict is still out on whether the program reached its goal of generating Iraqi good will toward the United States instead of the insurgents.
For certain, the volatile situation present in Iraq contributed immensely to the waste. The prison used as an example in the article was located in a region rife with sectarian violence. This fact delayed construction and increased costs. The U.S. also experienced problems getting the Iraqi government to take ownership of the new facilities. These factors led the U.S. to abandon the project in 2007.
While the draw-down of U.S. forces in Iraq likely means that the wasteful occurrences in the country are mostly beyond remedy, U.S. leadership must institute firm methods of oversight to make sure that the lessons learned in the reconstruction effort in Iraq are not repeated in the future.