The last time we heard from special inspector general Stuart Bowen, he was reporting that sabotage, poor management and corruption plague U.S. reconstruction efforts in Iraq. As the Wall Street Journal is reporting this morning, the Republican-led Congress has moved quickly to address the problem: It's denying Bowen authority to monitor the $21 billion in reconstruction funds included in the latest Iraq funding bill.
As the Journal explains, Bowen's critical reports on the misuse of Iraq reconstruction funds have "put him at odds" with some Bush administration officials. In turn, those officials have made "several behind-the-scenes attempts to close down his office." Their efforts have been unsuccessful, but Republicans in Congress have found another way to skin the cat. They're putting the latest round of reconstruction money in the State Department's "foreign operations" account rather than in the "relief and reconstruction" account that Bowen is authorized to monitor. The result: The job of monitoring the new money will fall not to Bowen, who has 55 auditors on staff in Iraq, but to the State Department's inspector general's office, which has a very small Iraq staff and has warned Congress in the past that it can't effectively monitor activities there.
Aides to Republicans on the Senate Appropriations Committee tell the Journal that the change was made at the request of the White House, but they insist that it had nothing to do with avoiding Bowen. A White House spokesman tells the Journal that the switch was made to further the administration's goal of "normalizing our treatment of Iraq assistance."