ABC News' Mary Bruce reports:
The State Department is not ready to assume leadership for the U.S. role in Iraq as the military draws down its mission there, Commissioners Grant Green and Michael Thibault of the Commission on Wartime Contracting in Iraq and Afghanistan argued before lawmakers today.
“Is the State Department ready? The short answer is ‘no,’ and the short reason for that answer is that establishing and sustaining an expanded U.S. diplomatic presence in Iraq will require State to take on thousands of additional contractor employees that it has neither funds to pay nor resources to manage,” Green testified before the Oversight and Government Reform Committee.
The State Department faces a daunting challenge. Come this October, the military will turn over leadership of the U.S. presence in Iraq to the State Department as the military moves toward its deadline to withdraw at the end of 2011. Lawmakers today raised concerns about the money and manpower that the State Department needs to get the job done.
Rep. John Tierney, D-Mass., accused the State Department of using contractors to perform functions that are inherently governmental and should be reserved for government personnel.
State Department Under Secretary for Management Ambassador Patrick Kennedy, however, was adamant that the functions that are being contracted out are non-governmental and reiterated that the State Department would have robust oversight over any contract body.
“We have a surge issue here in Iraq,” he explained. “Hiring permanent United States government employees for a 20 or 30 year career for a need in Iraq… is not good government. It’s not good for the American taxpayer to saddle them with a long-term 30 year bill for employees when I need them for a surge capability for a brief period of time.”
Time, Green said, is of the essence. “Ten months from today, all but a handful of U.S. military personnel will be gone from Iraq. State needs to have many new contracts in place with contractors at work by October to ensure a good transition. And that means many acquisitions must be launched quickly,” he said.
With all eyes looking for potential budget cuts, money is also a pivotal concern. The Obama administration, however, has made clear that the U.S. accomplishments in Iraq are at risk if the State Department does not get the funding it’s requested.
Defense Secretary Robert Gates has said that is "a critically urgent concern" that the State Department get approval of the proposed $5.2 billion allocation for fiscal year 2012 to fund its work in Iraq as U.S. forces exit this year.
“We really are in the soup on this,” Gates bluntly told the Senate Armed Services Committee last month on what would happen if the State Department does not get the funding.
Several committee members at today’s hearing agreed and Kennedy said that slashing the State Department’s budget would amount to mission failure.
“This is the definition of penny wise and pound foolish. After investing so much blood and nearly a trillion dollars in Iraq we must give the State Department the basic resources they need in order to successfully relieve the military of their mission there and help ensure Iraq’s stability and future prosperity,” Tierney said.
According to Kennedy, the military drawdown will save U.S. taxpayers $51 billion, while the State Department’s total operating budget for Iraq will increase by only $2.5 billion.
Given concerns about the State Department’s readiness to assume control, one new member of the committee questioned the decision to draw down the military to begin with.
Admitting he knows little about Iraq, freshman Congressman Blake Farenthold, R-Texas, raised the broad concern that it may be too soon for the military to be leaving Iraq. “As a new member of this committee and not an expert in foreign affairs or this situation and never having been to Iraq, I’m troubled by what I’m hearing here,” he said.
“My impression of Iraq comes from what I see on television and reading the newspapers, which might in and of itself be a mistake, but we’re talking about an unprecedented logistical situation for the State Department… it doesn’t sound like we’re ready for the military to get out of there.”