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.
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.