Audit: Iraq Contracts Skirted Fraud Rules

(AP) An internal audit of some $8 billion paid to U.S. and Iraqi contractors found that nearly every transaction failed to comply with federal laws or regulations aimed at preventing fraud, in some cases lacking even basic invoices explaining how the money was spent.

Of the money paid during a five-year period - from 2001 through 2006 - $7.8 billion in payments skirted billing rules with some violations egregious enough to invite potential fraud, warned the Defense Department's inspector general.

The findings provided fresh fodder for anti-war Democrats, who say President Bush's administration has turned a blind eye to the problem of corruption and fraud by relying too heavily on contractors to manage the war.

"There is something very wrong when our wounded troops have to fill out forms in triplicate for meal money while billions of dollars in cash are handed out in Iraq with no accountability," said Rep. Henry Waxman, chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee.

Results of the investigation were released at a committee hearing on Thursday, the same day the House approved legislation by Waxman intended to strengthen anti-fraud measures and increase transparency in contracting. Waxman's bill was passed as part of a major military policy bill, which authorizes $601.4 billion in defense spending.

In its report, the IG estimated the Army made more than 180,000 commercial payments from stations in Iraq, Kuwait and Egypt in the five-year period. The payments were made for various supplies and services, including bottled water, food and trucks.

In one example, $11 million was paid to a U.S. company without any record of what goods or services were provided, the IG wrote.

Overall, investigators estimated that the Army made some $1.4 billion in commercial payments that lacked even minimum supporting documentation, such as a certified voucher or invoice.

"Payments that are not properly supported do not provide the necessary assurance that funds were used as intended," the IG concluded.

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