Stuart Bowen appeals to Congress: Make USOCO happen

Stuart Bowen, the U.S. special inspector general for Iraq reconstruction. Photo by: SIGIR

The U.S. special inspector general for Iraq reconstruction has made another pitch for an idea that he says would bring efficiency to U.S. stabilization and reconstruction efforts overseas.

Stuart Bowen first proposed in 2009 the creation of the U.S. Office for Contingency Operations, an independent entity that would coordinate personnel, activities and budget for U.S. civilian operations in war zones.

The bill to establish USOCO has been sitting in Congress for more than a year now. Introduced by Democratic Rep. Russ Carnahan, it was referred to the House Foreign Affairs, Oversight and Government Reform committees in December 2011. There was no further action after that.

Bowen, though, hopes Congress gives the bill a second look.

“Ambitious though this proposal may be, the Congress could make it happen,” Bowen said in his final report. “Stabilization and reconstruction operations will recur, and the current system for their execution is inchoate, at best. The United States is not sufficiently structured or prepared for the next [stabilization and reconstruction operation].”

Bowen further argued that had USOCO existed at the start of the Iraq reconstruction program, the United States “might have avoided wasting billions of taxpayer dollars,” which his office estimated to be at $8 billion. Total funding for the program has now amounted to $60 billion.

The report noted that about 40 percent of the 116 ongoing and 54 completed projects SIGIR inspected had “major deficiencies.” Past and present officials of the U.S. Agency for International Development have acknowledged that the United States didn’t put too much thought to its early reconstruction effort and that they built the capacity of the Iraqi government to sustain projects too late in the game.

Aside from creating USOCO, the report made these recommendations, on the basis of interviews with key U.S. officials:

  • Early rebuilding programs and projects should start small.

  • The host country should be engaged in all stages of the reconstruction program.

  • Participants in the rebuilding project should use a uniform contracting, personnel and information management system.

  • Oversight should begin once the project starts.

  • Developed programs in Iraq like the commander’s emergency response plan should be refined and preserved.

  • The United States should plan in advance, comprehensively and in an integrated fashion.

Read more development aid news online, and subscribe to The Development Newswire to receive top international development headlines from the world’s leading donors, news sources and opinion leaders — emailed to you FREE every business day.

About the author

  • John Alliage Morales

    As a former Devex staff writer, John Alliage Morales covered the Americas, focusing on the world's top donor hub, Washington, and its aid community. Prior to joining Devex, John worked for a variety of news outlets including GMA, the Philippine TV network, where he conducted interviews, analyzed data, and produced in-depth stories on development and other topics.