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Senator: Fire Afghanistan Funds Inspector, Avoid Repeating Mistakes in Iraq and Afghanistan

by Andrea Shalal-Esa

WASHINGTON - The Obama administration should fire the special inspector general for Afghanistan, and create an office to oversee all wartime contracting, a top Democrat on the Senate Armed Services Committee said on Tuesday.

In this Jan. 12, 2010 file photo, Special Inspector for Afghanistan Reconstruction Gen. Arnold Fields speaks during news conference at the U.S. embassy in Kabul, Afghanistan. A group of U.S. senators is urging President Barack Obama to fire the special inspector general responsible for overseeing how billions of American tax dollars are being spent to rebuild Afghanistan.(AP Photo/Musadeq Sadeq, File) Senator Claire McCaskill, a former state auditor, said Arnold Fields has failed to do his job overseeing tens of billions of dollars spent on Afghanistan.

"We've got real work to do in terms of oversight of contracting in Afghanistan. We don't have time, frankly, to be dealing with someone who hasn't shown that they're up to the job," McCaskill said during a hearing on the Pentagon's drive to save $100 billion in overhead in coming years.

She said the Pentagon should establish a permanent inspector general office to oversee operations in war zones to avoid repeating mistakes in Iraq and Afghanistan that have wasted billions of dollars of taxpayer money.

McCaskill and three Republican senators wrote to Obama last week urging Field's ouster, citing numerous problems with the agency's operations and audit reports.

McCaskill said a recent independent report had concluded that Fields' oversight was "woefully lacking."

She blasted his move to give former Pentagon inspector general Joseph Schmitz a two-month contract worth $95,000 to independently monitor the agency's efforts to improve its investigative division.

"It is enough to make the top of my head blow off," McCaskill said. "This is the special inspector general over Afghanistan reconstruction hiring somebody for $95,000 for two months' work. And you wonder why the public thinks we've lost our minds. That is not being accountable."

Schmitz left office in 2005 amid allegations that he interfered with investigations and other misconduct, later taking a job with the Prince Group. Prince manages Xe Services, a company that was also known as Blackwater International, according to U.S. government documents.

Schmitz was cleared of any wrongdoing by an independent panel that investigated the allegations in 2005 and 2006.

Fields took office in July 2008 but his agency did not receive full funding until a year later.

No comment was immediately available from Fields' office on Tuesday evening. But he defended the agency's work in an August statement, saying it had advanced more than 106 criminal investigations since it was created, and produced 22 audits with 67 recommendations for change.

Fields' office estimates that the United States has spent $51 billion on Afghanistan reconstruction since 2002, and the number is set to rise to $71 billion by next year.

The nonprofit Project on Government Oversight last week also called for Fields' ouster.

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