Oversight Under Fire: Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction, Stuart W. Bowen, Jr.

The Asia-Pacific Chapter of the Association of Inspectors General held a professional development luncheon on August 18, 2011 at Fort Shafter, Hawaii.  The featured speaker was Mr. Stuart W. Bowen, Jr. – the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction (SIGIR).  Bowen was appointed the SIGIR in October 2004 and oversees $58 billion in U.S. appropriated reconstruction funds.  He has made 30 trips to Iraq, issued 360 audits and inspections, 5 comprehensive lessons learned reports, and 28 reports to the U.S. Congress.

In Bowen’s highly successful IG office, he emphasizes professionalism, productivity, and perseverance, and values “pushing the truth forward”.  Bowen spoke of the challenges of working in an unstable and dangerous environment stating “Iraq is still an extraordinarily dangerous place to work”.  One of his auditor’s was killed in 2008 and five were wounded in 2007.

Stuart W. Bowen, Jr. - Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction (SIGIR)

The key points of Bowen’s presentation were the current situation in Iraq, findings in SIGIR reports, and lessons learned.  SIGIR auditors, investigators, and staff operate in Washington, D.C. and Iraq.  The highest number of SIGIR employees in Iraq was 55; currently there are 16.  SIGIR employees truly conduct oversight under fire – the embassy compound where the employees work is regularly shelled.  Bowen referred to this summer as the “summer of uncertainty” reflecting this time of transition and insecurity punctuated by recent coordinated and extensive attacks.

SIGIR currently has 110 investigations open. His office has obtained over 50 convictions – a third of which involved U.S. military officers – and has recovered over $144 million.  Despite the impressive number of convictions and recoveries, Bowen pointed out that “fraud is about 1% of the problem – waste is the biggest problem.”  He spoke of “diseased places” in Iraq where tours of duty were short, turnovers perpetuated bad habits, and large amounts of cash were involved.  Bowen opined, “the IG should not know more about the system than management does” referring to lack of continuity.  “The IG is the second level of oversight; management is the first level of oversight.”  Bowen remains highly motivated after 7 years on the job and continues to find areas in need of reform and where management oversight has failed.

In closing, Stuart Bowen described several important lessons learned and he outlined a concept put forward for the U.S. to become better equipped to “carry out stabilization missions in a coordinated fashion.”  He referred to “the great ad hoc-ary” method employed in Iraq in which as many as 26 federal agencies and organizations play some role.  SIGIR recommends replacing the current fragmented process for stabilization and reconstruction operations (SROs) with “a consolidated entity whose sole mission would be ensuring that the United States is ready to execute SROs.”   For more information about this concept, and additional information about Stuart Bowen and the office and products of the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction,  visit the SIGIR website at www.sigir.mil .