The Senate Democratic Policy Committee (DPC) has launched the “Accountability Series,” which features video on congressional efforts to ensure accountability in government.
Congressional oversight is one of the most important congressional responsibilities. Sadly, during the George W. Bush Administration, when Congress and the White House were controlled by the same political party, that responsibility was routinely ignored.
It was as if the majority party at the time, Republicans, didn’t want to embarrass a President of their own political party. That was particularly true when it came to the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. Congress was appropriating billions of taxpayer dollars, with much of it going to private contractors who did work soldiers used to do.
But neither the Congress, nor the Executive Branch did much to check how that money was spent or how the contractors performed. Literally billions of dollars were wasted as a result.
In 2003, as Chairman of the DPC, I moved to fill that void. Since our first hearing months after the war started, we’ve held 19 oversight hearings on Iraq and Afghanistan contracting. What we found may be the greatest amount of waste, fraud and contracting abuses in the history of our country.
DPC hearings exposed a contractor charging taxpayers for twice as many meals as it actually served. We found a contractor delivering water to U.S. troops that water was more contaminated than water from the nearby Euphrates River. An internal document we obtained from a company whistleblower acknowledged that this occurred and described it as a “near miss” that could have caused “mass sickness and even death.” Yet the company and, astonishingly, the Army continued to deny it ever happened.
DPC hearings found that U.S. National Guard troops and a contractor’s own employees had been recklessly exposed to a deadly carcinogen, sodium dichromate, at one site. No one was given protective gear until it was too late. Many soldiers weren’t told about the exposure until we started pushing to insist that they be told.
We found electrical wiring on U.S. military bases in Iraq done so incompetently that U.S. troops were regularly shocked in their shower stalls. Some were even electrocuted as they showered, or as they did something as routine as power-washing a Humvee.
Today we have a new administration. There are encouraging signs that the Obama Administration takes its responsibility to safeguard tax dollars and to hold contractors accountable far more seriously than the previous administration. But congressional oversight is still urgently required, and the DPC’s oversight work will continue.
During World War II, then-Senator Harry Truman showed us that politics should have nothing to do with protecting our soldiers and taxpayers. He established and chaired what came to be called the Truman Committee in the Senate. It kept a close eye on war contracting. He insisted that taxpayers get their money’s worth and that soldiers get equipment and weapons that worked. The Truman Committee saved billions of taxpayer dollars and exposed countless examples of shoddy work that cheated taxpayers and endangered American soldiers. The President at that time? Franklin D. Roosevelt, a fellow Democrat, whom Truman would later serve as Vice President.
Congressional oversight must be a year-round, every-day responsibility, regardless of whether the President is a Democrat or Republican.
The billions of tax dollars provided to Wall Street, the banks, and the big automakers only makes congressional responsibility to ensure that tax dollarsare spent wisely more urgent.
The “Accountability Series” features Democratic Senators who have been among the most active in the DPC’s oversight hearings. They talk candidly about the need for congressional oversight and their experience in pursuing it.
The conversation is an ongoing one. This new video series will be updated regularly with news of developments and comments from Senators who are working to ensure that your tax dollars are spent wisely. Check it regularly, and please use our comment section to join the conversation.