Report: Rebuilding Effort Understaffed, Costs Soaring

The New York Times on Tuesday published a preliminary document outlining the crippled efforts to rebuild Iraq. Madeleine Brand speaks with James Glanz, the reporter who obtained the document, about new details suggesting that the reconstruction program is grossly understaffed and under-skilled — and that costs are soaring.

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MADELEINE BRAND, host:

From the studios of NPR West, this is DAY TO DAY. I'm Madeleine Brand.

ALEX CHADWICK, host:

And I'm Alex Chadwick. Coming up: why some churchmen in Ohio want the IRS to investigate two conservative churches.

BRAND: But first, in Iraq, reconstruction has been inept and inefficient there. A new document obtained by the New York Times paints a picture of an out-of-control bureaucracy overwhelmed by soaring security costs and paralyzed by a lack of qualified workers. James Glanz is the reporter who obtained a copy of this document, and he joins me now. Welcome to the program.

Mr. JAMES GLANZ (Reporter, The New York Times): Happy to be here.

BRAND: So who issued this document?

Mr. GLANZ: This was issued by the office of something called the special inspector general for Iraq reconstruction. It was created specifically to look at problems in the reconstruction program, and it's been working in Iraq since something like early-2004.

BRAND: So this is a governmental agency?

Mr. GLANZ: It is. It's an independent oversight agency.

BRAND: And so what does it conclude in this report?

Mr. GLANZ: Well, I think we knew there were problems with the reconstruction program before. We didn't know they were this deep, and we didn't know that simple things like the technical knowledge of how to write a contract or run an electricity power station were lacking in this program. We poured billions of dollars into the stuff, you might say, but we didn't have the people there to carry out the program.

BRAND: And was there a program to begin with or was it kind of assembled in an ad hoc fashion?

Mr. GLANZ: As this report points out, the planning for the reconstruction, like the planning for the war, was done initially in secrecy. So when the United States showed up in Baghdad in April 2003 after we had the lighting invasion from the south, lo and behold, there was no one there who knew how to write a contract, and that's how the great program to rebuild Iraq began.

BRAND: And you talk in your article about some 20 different agencies handing out contracts, one not knowing what the other one is doing.

Mr. GLANZ: Well, that's one of the sort of dispiriting findings of this report is that on the one hand, there were times when the program was paralyzed because of lack of qualified personnel, but then when they started trying to get something done, everybody dove in, and there was no one in charge, and sort of there were too many cooks and not enough really qualified people to do this job.

BRAND: And how much money are we talking about?

Mr. GLANZ: Overall, we're talking about $25 billion for reconstruction, most of that American taxpayer money, but there was also a fair amount of Iraqi money that Paul Bremer, who ran the Coalition Provisional Authority, which ran the country at the time, poured into this effort. So it was both Iraqi and American funds.

BRAND: And what does Iraq have to show for it now, for that $25 billion?

Mr. GLANZ: Well, they've built some stuff. I mean, you show up, and you don't want to be, overstate things here. They did go out and you'll find power plants or parts of power plants and transmission lines and so on that they've put up, but the results of this reconstruction in terms of their impact on the Iraqi people is what you have to question because even now the amount of electricity, let's say, that's being generated in Iraq is below the amount that was being generated when the United States invaded the country in 2003. So it sort of depends on how you look at it, but the picture's not looking very good at the moment.

BRAND: So who is running the reconstruction effort now? And is there any more order to it now than two years ago?

Mr. GLANZ: Right now, they may be getting things together, but they are really running out of money to spend. The money that's been appropriated by Congress has mostly been obligated and largely dispersed to projects, and they're sort of stuck with the game plan they had at the beginning. Most of the effort is being overseen now by the Army Core of Engineers, and then there are other smaller programs, often more successful programs, being run by the military, and these are the discretionary funds that the commanders of various units have, and they can, say, decide to build a well in a village or refurbish a school or what have you.

BRAND: So there are still all sorts of different agencies handing out contracts?

Mr. GLANZ: Yeah, yeah. It's still pretty chaotic. I think that they have gotten to the point where they know how to write a contract, and they've done this for long enough now that I'm sure they learned something, but it's still hard to say how efficient the overall process is.

BRAND: James Glanz is a correspondent with The New York Times. His article on the contracting process in Iraq is in today's paper. Thank you very much.

Mr. GLANZ: Good talking with you.

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