In Case You Missed It: Hiring for the Iraq Reconstruction

February 21, 2007
Our first post here, a week before actual launch as we were pre-loading content, captured some highlights from Chairman Henry Waxman's first hearing of the year. It was on Iraq reconstruction and the $8.8 billlion found to be unaccounted for in one audit.

A front page Washington Post piece adapted from "Imperial Life in the Emerald City," by Rajiv Chandrasekaran in 2006 delved into hiring practices for the Coalition Provisional Authority:

Ties to GOP Trumped Know-How Among Staff Sent to Rebuild Iraq

Rajiv Chandrasekaran, Washington Post - September 17, 2006

After the fall of Saddam Hussein's government in April 2003, the opportunity to participate in the U.S.-led effort to reconstruct Iraq attracted all manner of Americans -- restless professionals, Arabic-speaking academics, development specialists and war-zone adventurers. But before they could go to Baghdad, they had to get past Jim O'Beirne's office in the Pentagon.

To pass muster with O'Beirne, a political appointee who screens prospective political appointees for Defense Department posts, applicants didn't need to be experts in the Middle East or in post-conflict reconstruction. What seemed most important was loyalty to the Bush administration.

O'Beirne's staff posed blunt questions to some candidates about domestic politics: Did you vote for George W. Bush in 2000? Do you support the way the president is fighting the war on terror? Two people who sought jobs with the U.S. occupation authority said they were even asked their views on Roe v. Wade .

Many of those chosen by O'Beirne's office to work for the Coalition Provisional Authority, which ran Iraq's government from April 2003 to June 2004, lacked vital skills and experience. A 24-year-old who had never worked in finance -- but had applied for a White House job -- was sent to reopen Baghdad's stock exchange. The daughter of a prominent neoconservative commentator and a recent graduate from an evangelical university for home-schooled children were tapped to manage Iraq's $13 billion budget, even though they didn't have a background in accounting.

The decision to send the loyal and the willing instead of the best and the brightest is now regarded by many people involved in the 3 1/2 -year effort to stabilize and rebuild Iraq as one of the Bush administration's gravest errors. Many of those selected because of their political fidelity spent their time trying to impose a conservative agenda on the postwar occupation, which sidetracked more important reconstruction efforts and squandered goodwill among the Iraqi people, according to many people who participated in the reconstruction effort.

Here Rep. John Tierney questions Paul Bremer on hiring practices for the Coalition Provisional Authority and Chairman Henry Waxman explains that the Committee has been "stonewalled" regarding Mr. O'Beirne: