Former Bush Aide Turns Tough Critic As Iraq Inspector

Stuart Bowen, a former Bush campaign official and cabinet member, has surprised critics by being a ruthless auditor of the Iraq War’s financial management.

Former Bush Aide Turns Tough Critic As Iraq Inspector (WSJ $)

During a routine audit last summer of an American office in charge of doling out reconstruction funding in Hillah, Iraq, U.S. government investigators made a series of startling discoveries. The office had paid a contractor twice for the same work. A U.S. official was allowed to handle millions of dollars in cash weeks after he was fired for incompetence. Of the $119.9 million allocated for regional projects, $89.4 million was disbursed without contracts or other documentation. An additional $7.2 million couldn’t be found at all.

To many officials in both Baghdad and Washington, the only thing more surprising than the problems was the identity of the man who had uncovered them: Stuart Bowen, the special inspector general for Iraq reconstruction. Mr. Bowen is a Texas lawyer who parlayed a job on George W. Bush’s first gubernatorial campaign into senior posts in Austin and Washington. He began the Iraq war lobbying for an American contractor seeking tens of millions of dollars in reconstruction work. Last October, California Democratic Rep. Henry Waxman singled him out in a report on “The Politicization of Inspectors General” in the Bush administration. The report suggested that such auditors wouldn’t be “independent and objective.”

Instead, Mr. Bowen has become one of the most prominent and credible critics of how the administration has handled the occupation of Iraq. In a series of blistering public reports, he has detailed systemic management failings, lax or nonexistent oversight, and apparent fraud and embezzlement on the part of the U.S. officials charged with administering the rebuilding efforts.

White House officials declined to comment on Mr. Bowen. But he has drawn harsh criticism from other quarters. Aides at both the State Department and the Defense Department have tried to curb the independence of his office. L. Paul Bremer, head of the Coalition Provisional Authority until June 2004, has criticized Mr. Bowen for “misconceptions and inaccuracies” and for expecting the occupation authority, amid postwar chaos, to follow accounting standards that “even peaceful Western nations would have trouble meeting.” Newt Gingrich, the former House speaker, has called Mr. Bowen’s staff “dramatically out of touch with the practical realities of waging war and setting up a new government in a war-torn country.”

Mr. Bowen acknowledged in one report that “the CPA operated in a dangerous working environment under difficult conditions.” But the report said the U.S. still should have “established controls and provided oversight over” reconstruction funds “precisely because there was no functioning Iraqi government.”

One would think.

While apparent conflict of interest makes doing one’s job difficult, a man either has integrity or he doesn’t. I know little about Bowen, but he seems to fit in the first category.

Now, it may be that his expectations are unreasonable given the circumstances. Presumably, some shortcuts are necessary in a highly flexible environment. One would not think, however, that the inability to account for millions would full within that explanation. Regardless, his duty is to do an honest accounting and to report to policymakers. If their judgment is that the shortcomings Bowen identifies are within acceptable parameters, it’s their call as well as that of their congressional overseers. But Bowen should report what he finds and let the decisionmakers decide.

FILED UNDER: General
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. Anderson says:

    “No more Souters Bowens!”

  2. killBil says:

    This guy Bowen is clearly an opportunist. He used his connections to get in tight with Bush in Austin and Washington. Now that Bush is a lame duck, he’s jumping ship to further his own political ambitions. He’s used Bush and now that Bush can’t do anything more for him, he’s ready to throw him away.

    I predict that Bowen will be a foreign policy advisor to the Hilary Clinton campaign much in the same way his fellow turncoat, Joe Wilson, acted as the mouthpiece for John Kerry.

  3. Fersboo says:

    As my auditors will be here tomorrow for the ‘fieldwork’ portion of my annual audit, I can sympathize with the negative feelings some may have towards IG Bowen. However, the true purpose of audits is to weed out problems and bring them to the attention of management. What management decides to do with that information is up to management.

    Since IG Bowen is doing his job, as detailed by his findings, and doing it well, friends of the President’s administration should approve of him. Given that the administration (or management if you desire) is not downplaying or attempting to influence the auditors should be taken as the administration’s good faith.

  4. John Thacker says:

    Sounds like he’s doing his job.

    One expects horrible mismanagement and waste in this sort of thing. Good for him to be watching for it. Good that they have a honest man.

  5. John Thacker says:

    As a conservative, I expect that any human endeavor will be flawed, especially something like this. If he does his job well– and it sounds like he is– it should help minimize the inevitable mistakes.

  6. Mikey says:

    Let us know what is wrong so we can fix it. If malfeasance, let JAG or DOJ do their jobs.

  7. Lt bell says:

    where is osama bin laden
    where is the treasonist karl rove
    where is someone who is in charge of this Iraq mess

  8. Fersboo says:

    Sounds like you are volunteering Lt. Bell. Or do you only become a brave chickenshit when you type?

  9. Rob says:

    Bremer has the balls to criticize anyone, given his own performance? Awesome, that guy has no shame.

  10. Gold Star for Robot Boy says:

    KillBil,
    Is the American public being served by Bowen’s performance as IG? Yea or nay.

  11. ICallMasICM says:

    Good for him! It’s exactly what he should be doing.

    And thank you lt. Since we know the left approaches the WOT like a child’s game we can always disregard the childish comments.