Following The Reconstruction Money In Iraq NPR's Robert Siegel talks to Stuart Bowen, the special inspector general for Iraq reconstruction, about the billions of American dollars wasted on reconstruction projects in Iraq.

Following The Reconstruction Money In Iraq

Following The Reconstruction Money In Iraq

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NPR's Robert Siegel talks to Stuart Bowen, the special inspector general for Iraq reconstruction, about the billions of American dollars wasted on reconstruction projects in Iraq.


President Obama will officially declare an end to combat operations in Iraq tomorrow. Also winding down is the massive reconstruction effort there. The U.S. has spent more than $53 billion on projects ranging from new schools and hospitals to Iraq's energy grid.

SIEGEL: between four and five billion dollars have been spent on hundreds of unfinished or ineffective projects. That's about 10 percent of the total spent on Iraqi reconstruction. I asked Stuart Bowen what was the most notorious example of waste in the Iraqi reconstruction.

STUART BOWEN: I think that the single largest failed program has been the health sector. The plan was to build a state-of-the-art children's oncology hospital in Basra, to construct 151 public health care clinics, taking a new level of aid out to the hinterlands in Iraq and to refurbish the many broken- down hospitals across the country. None of those programs really succeeded.

SIEGEL: One measure of rebuilding Iraq that we've followed over the years is electricity, of how many houses are getting electricity, how often it's off. What's the record there for waste in U.S. spending on improving electric service?

BOWEN: Is it as much as was expected? Is it as much as needed? No. But has it improved the situation that was in place six years ago? Yes.

SIEGEL: Now, your office has been overseeing U.S. contracts in Iraq for several years now.

BOWEN: Six years.

SIEGEL: If you look for a number one explanation for why there's been so much waste of U.S. funds, what is it? What would you say?

BOWEN: The lack of an integrated institution to plan and execute and be accountable for the U.S. reconstruction program. The process has been diffuse across agencies from the outset. It was an adhocracy, as I've called it, but no single entity to ensure that U.S. dollars are well spent to help the Iraqis get on their feet.

SIEGEL: Of course, 10 percent waste means that 90 percent of the U.S. money that was spent presumably was not wasted. Is there enough there that's been built, enough facilities, that you would say Iraqis 10, 20 years hence can look at their landscape and see all sorts of monuments to the good things the Americans left behind?

BOWEN: Hundreds of projects have been transferred unilaterally. Iraqis didn't want them, and they're falling into desuetude, I think, as we speak. And as they break down, that's waste. That's lost benefit to the Iraqi people.

SIEGEL: And when you speak of those hundreds of projects, what sort of project are you speaking of?

BOWEN: A wide variety. I mean, security projects, water projects of the kind that the Iraqis didn't want, didn't ask for or in locations that they didn't need. The Khan Bani Saad prison up north of Baghdad, $40 million spent, and the deputy minister of justice told my inspectors that they never wanted that prison there. And it stands as a monument to failure, up just north of Baghdad in the desert.

SIEGEL: Stuart Bowen, thanks for talking with us once again.

BOWEN: Thank you, Robert.

SIEGEL: That's Stuart Bowen, the special inspector general for Iraq reconstruction.

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