WASHINGTON – Government auditors have concluded the Bush administration's program to help provide essential services to the Iraqi people is marred by a lack of "overarching direction" in Washington and corruption and a lack of skills in Iraq.
"No single agency is in charge," the Government Accountability Office said in a report released Tuesday.
The congressional watchdog agency recommended that Congress require a new coordination plan before it approves the administration's request for hundreds of millions of dollars to help deliver essential services.
Over the past four years the program has lacked "overarching direction," the GAO concluded in submitting its findings to the House Government Reform and Oversight Committee.
The State Department, the Agency for International Development and the Pentagon have dealt separately with Iraqi ministries while such critical departments as oil and electricity get insufficient attention, the GAO said.
As of this summer, the report said, the State Department and AID were providing 169 development advisers to 10 key Iraqi civilian ministries and the Pentagon was providing 215 to the ministries of defense and interior.
U.S. roles should be spelled out more clearly and coordination with the United Nations and other donors should be improved, the report said.
In 2005 and 2006, about $169 million was allocated for the program. Congress recently approved another $140 million and the administration is seeking $255 million for the new fiscal year that began Oct. 1.
Much of the $140 million would still be available for working with the Iraqi government if Congress decided to condition the $255 million on reforms.
"Given the absence of an integrated capacity development strategy, it is unclear how further appropriations of funding for ministry capacity development will contribute to the success of overall U.S. efforts in Iraq," the report said.
As a result, the GAO said, Congress should consider conditioning future appropriations on the completion of an integrated strategy.
These would include establishing a "clear purpose, roles and responsibilities," for U.S. officials and more emphasis on Iraq's own priorities and "performance measurements."
The GAO identified what it called key problems facing the Iraqi ministries. First, more skilled Iraqi personnel with skills to develop budgets and how to purchase goods and services are needed, the GAO said. Another problem is a continuing flight of Iraq's professional class away from the country.
Other pressing problems are corruption throughout the Iraqi government, the influence of militias in security operations and violence that prevents Iraqis from getting to their jobs.
The State Department, responding to a draft of the report, said it recognized the value of a unified strategy but it was concerned that funds might be withheld while a new approach was developed.
The report also credited U.S. Ambassador Ryan Crocker with appointing a special U.S. ambassador, Charles Ries, in August to coordinate the U.S. economic assistance program.