Monday, January 28, 2008

Webb scores huge legislative victory!

Via the office of Senator Jim Webb:
Washington, D.C. – The Fiscal Year 2008 National Defense Authorization Act, signed into law by the President today, includes a historic provision to improve accountability in wartime contracting sponsored by Senators Jim Webb (D-VA) and Claire McCaskill (D-MO).

The Webb-McCaskill amendment, introduced jointly last year with the senators' seven Democratic freshman colleagues, creates an independent, bipartisan "Commission on Wartime Contracting" charged with addressing the systemic problems associated with the federal government’s wartime-support, reconstruction, and private security contracts in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The provision requires that the Commission be fully established 120 days after passage of the defense bill. The next step in establishing the Commission will be the appointment of eight commissioners by congressional senior leadership and the President. During this process, Senate and House leadership will consult with the chairmen and ranking members of the Armed Services, Foreign Relations, Homeland Security, and Government Reform Committees as required by the legislation.

"I am pleased that our Commission to bring accountability back into our wartime contracting will finally become a reality," said Senator Webb. "I look forward to working with the Administration and my colleagues in Congress to ensure that the Commission comes to life as quickly as possible."

The Commission is modeled after the "Truman Committee" which investigated defense contracts during World War II. The creation of then-Senator Harry Truman, the Committee is credited with savings of $15 billion (1943 dollars) and preventing the loss of life of countless U.S. service members.

"The Commission on Wartime Contracting will build on Senator Truman’s legacy," said Webb. "Ultimately, it will play a major role remedying the major problems we find in wartime-support contracting today and save American taxpayer dollars for years to come."

"When America put a new majority in the U.S. Senate it demanded, among other things, accountability for the record fraud, waste and abuse in wartime defense contracting and today, with the President's signature on the defense bill, we take an important, hard fought step toward meeting that demand," Senator McCaskill said.

Specifically, the Webb-McCaskill provision:
  • Establishes an independent, bipartisan eight-member Commission on Wartime Contracting to study federal agency contracting for logistics support, reconstruction, and security functions in Iraq and Afghanistan. The Commission will issue interim and final reports on its findings and recommendations, including an evaluation of which functions are inherently governmental and which functions are appropriate for performance by contractors in a contingency operation, especially whether providing security in an areas of combat operations is inherently governmental.
  • Requires an assessment of the extent of waste, fraud, abuse, and mismanagement of wartime contracts, and the extent to which those responsible have been held accountable. The Commission will have the authority to refer to the Department of Justice any violation or potential violation of law it identifies.
  • Expands the jurisdiction of the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction (SIGIR) and a newly-created Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) beyond reconstruction to include security contracting in Iraq and Afghanistan. It also requires an expanded series of audits of wartime contracts by the inspectors general of the Department of Defense and other executive agencies.
A second amendment offered by Senators Webb and McCaskill also was included in the defense bill. It requires the Department of Defense to strengthen its policies regarding private security contractors, such as Blackwater. The amendment directs the Department of Defense to develop procedures to mark contractor vehicles so that they are more easily identifiable by Iraqi civilians and military personnel, keep records of private security personnel, maintain all regulations applying to contractors in a single, accessible location, such as a website; and ensure that private security personnel are briefed on and understand their obligation to comply with applicable U.S., Iraqi, and international laws, and rules on the use of force.

The provision also establishes a process for cultural training of security contractors, as well as training on working with the U.S. military and Iraqi nationals.
This legislation is a triumph for a pair of freshman U.S. Senators: Jim Webb of Virginia and Claire McCaskill of Missouri.

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