Can Government Control and oversee mercenaries

Will private contractors be supervised adequately as st athan?

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IRAQ Blackwater Buzz
The State Department has been facing rough times lately, with its lax oversight of government contractors under scrutiny, diplomatic dissatisfaction over forced postings to Iraq, and a behemoth embassy in Iraq that is expected to cost $144 more than projected. The official who is supposed to be rooting out this "waste, fraud, abuse, and mismanagement" at the agency, Inspector General (IG) Howard Krongard, is instead fending off allegations that he has politicized the agency and blocked investigations. As House Oversight Committee chairman Henry Waxman (D-CA) noted in a September letter, it appears that Krongard's "foremost mission is to support the Bush Administration, especially with respect to Iraq and Afghanistan," rather than "act as an independent and objective check."INSPECTING THE INSPECTOR GENERAL: Krongard yesterday appeared before the House Oversight Committee to defend himself against allegations that, among others, he stalled investigators from cooperating with a Justice Department probe waste relating to the new U.S. embassy in Iraq and refused to send "any investigators" into Iraq or Afghanistan to "pursue investigations into wasteful spending or procurement fraud." In late September, Waxman also found that Krongard's senior staff "attempted to coerce" State Department employees from cooperating with Congress's investigation, threatening them with their "jobs and careers." Even a report by the committee's Republican staff found "substantial support" that Krongard would regularly "belittle employees" or treat them harshly. "Several witnesses observed that the IG had a poor regard for government workers," the report concluded. The FBI is also investigating Krongard and the American Foreign Service Association has called for his ouster.AN 'UGLY' REALITY: One of the most serious charges against Krongard is that he impeded an investigation into whether Blackwater USA employees illegally smuggled weapons into Iraq that were then sold on the black market. In a Sept. 18 letter, Waxman revealed that Krongard had ordered his employees to "IMMEDIATELY" stop cooperating with federal investigators. Krongard has denied this allegation, but yesterday's hearing revealed that he has a conflict-of-interest with the contractor: his brother, Alvin "Buzzy" Krongard sits on Blackwater USA's advisory board. At first, Krongard vehemently rebuffed the charge, calling it an "ugly rumor." "It couldn't possibly have affected anything I've done, because I don't believe it," he said. Yet during a break in the proceedings, Krongard called his brother and confirmed that the "ugly rumor" was in fact true, and promised to recuse himself from any Blackwater investigations: "I learned that he had been at the advisory board meeting yesterday. I had not been aware of that." Krongard claimed that the last time he talked to his brother -- "about six weeks ago" -- Buzzy had not been on Blackwater's board. But TPMmuckraker.com's Spencer Ackerman yesterday spoke with Blackwater spokeswoman Anne Tyrrell, who said Buzzy was invited to join the board in late July and "accepted soon after," raising doubts about Krongard's timeline. In fact, Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-MD) presented a Sept. 5 e-mail at yesterday's hearing, in which Blackwater wrote to Buzzy to "thank you for accepting the invitation to be a member." Buzzy also told Ackerman that about two or three weeks ago, he told his brother he would be joining the advisory board.

FUTURE CONTRACTING: Blackwater is a State Department contractor and has received hundreds of millions of dollars of work from the government. The Bush administration has repeatedly rushed to the defense of Blackwater after the deadly September shootout that killed 17 Iraqi civilians, even promising legal immunity to the company's guards. But an FBI investigation concluded yesterday that the employees' shootings were "unjustified under State Department rules for the private guards," although charges remain uncertain. Despite these troubles, Blackwater is likely to continue its association with the State Department, which is why Krongard's conflict-of-interest is so troubling. Just weeks after the September shooting, the State Department awarded the firm a new $92 million contract. Blackwater is also "one of five military contractors competing for as much as $15 billion over five years to help fight a narcotics trade that the government says finances terrorist groups."

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