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Ex- Bush aide turns critic on Iraq

RAW STORY

The Wall Street Journal's first page Tuesday offers a detailed piece enumerating the concerns of a former Bush Administration aide and continued loyalist who has criticized the President's handling of Iraq reconstruction. The article tells of Stuart Bowen, "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." Bowen was so seen as a part of the Bush machine that he was singled out by name in a report by Rep. Henry Waxman (D-CA), who worried about the politicization of Iraq inspectors general -- the job to which Bowen was appointed. Bowen also worked on the 2000 Florida recount team and served as associate counsel under Alberto Gonzales. The piece is worth reading in its entirety but is paid-restricted; RAW STORY has excerpted a few graphs below.

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Stuart Bowen discovered a U.S office in Iraq 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 $219.9 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.

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.

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Mr. Bowen's audits later found evidence that a public relations push to use captured Iraqi money to build many small-scale rebuilding projects by the handover date led contracting officials to take shortcuts that made it difficult to determine where the money actually went. In Hillah, for instance, a contracting officer told Mr. Bowen's investigators that he had been given $6.75 million in cash on June 21 with the expectation that he would spend the entire amount before the handover, which ultimately took place two days earlier than planned on June 28.

In one of his most attention-grabbing reports, issued on Jan. 30, 2005, Mr. Bowen concluded that the American occupation authority failed to keep track of nearly $9 billion that it transferred to Iraqi government ministries, which lacked financial controls and internal safeguards to prevent abuse. One Iraqi ministry cited in the audit inflated its payroll to receive extra funds, claiming to employ 8,206 guards when it actually employed barely 600.

The report sparked harsh responses from both Mr. Bremer, the former occupation chief, and the Pentagon. Mr. Bremer chided the auditor for expecting conventional levels of accountability, saying that "given the situation the CPA found in Iraq at liberation, this is an unrealistic standard."

In a November 2004 report, Mr. Bowen took on the big contractor Halliburton Co. in two separate reports. He urged the Army to withhold nearly $90 million in payments to Halliburton because the company couldn't justify what it had charged the government. The report added that "weakness in the cost-reporting process" was such a problem that his investigators couldn't do a standard audit of Halliburton's bills to the CPA. Halliburton spokeswoman Cathy Mann says the Houston-based oil-services and contracting company is working with the Army to resolve the matter and "we expect to work through any remaining issues in a cooperative manner."

Mr. Bowen's audits have also described what appears to be outright criminal behavior by several government officials. In one case, an Army soldier serving as the assistant to an American boxing coach admitted to gambling away half the $40,000 he was given to cover the expenses of an Iraqi athletic team during a trip to the Philippines; his case was referred to the military's justice system for a court-martial. Mr. Bowen also recently gave the Justice Department information on possibly criminal behavior on the part of U.S. contracting officers in Hillah, the first time government officials have been implicated in potential fraud in Iraq. The officers left the country with no record of how they had spent nearly $2.5 million that couldn't be found by investigators.

Originally published on Tuesday July 26, 2005.

 


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