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Senator seeks answers on why US government investigators being reduced in Iraq

Senator seeks answers on why US government investigators being reduced in Iraq

The United States plans to reduce the number of auditors and investigators at its development agency's offices in Baghdad, The Associated Press has learned.
A spokesman for Sen. Norm Coleman, a Republican who opposes the plan, said Friday the nine investigators and auditors would be allowed to finish their tours but would not be replaced. The spokesman, LeRoy Coleman, cited an internal government memo spelling out the new plan.
At issue is the operation of the of the inspector general's office of the U.S. Agency for International Development.
Dona Dinkler, chief of staff to the USAID inspector general in Washington, confirmed the reductions. She said the State Department told the inspector general's office it would have just two temporary duty officers on a rotating basis in Iraq.
"Our position is we cannot provide adequate cover to USAID projects on that basis," she said. Because of the security situation in Iraq, Dinkler said, field visits by auditors often have to be rescheduled. That will be difficult without a permanent presence.
Dinkler said the only rationale provided by the State Department for the decision has been security.
"We have tried repeatedly to engage the State Department in a conversation on this issue," she said, but the department will not discuss it.
Neither the State Department nor USAID responded to requests for comment Friday.
The USAID inspector general's office has had people on the ground in Iraq since August 2004, Dinkler said. They have conducted 38 performance audits, as well as 105 financial audits that questioned $64 million (euro42.2 million) in costs. Investigations have come up with $4.6 million (euro3 million) in savings, she said.
Sen. Coleman, ranking Republican on the Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations, wrote to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice on Friday asking why the changes were being made.
"State Department's intention to reduce the number of full-time USAID investigators down to two temporary staffers simply isn't effective oversight," he said in a statement. "We need a strong oversight presence on the ground in Iraq to ensure that taxpayer dollars are being spent efficiently."
In the letter, Coleman told Rice the reductions could compromise USAID's ability to ensure that billions of taxpayer dollars are spent wisely. What's more, he said, the reduction could "render a significant component of the reconstruction effort in Iraq more vulnerable to fraud, waste and abuse."
Coleman asked Rice for an explanation of the changes to the inspector general's office in Iraq.
USAID's mission in Iraq has included helping the country with elections, government services, financial management, infrastructure projects, health care and education, according to the agency's Web site.
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On the Web:
http://www.usaid.gov/
http://www.usaid.gov/oig/index.html
http://www.state.gov/