Today, the Commission on Wartime Contracting, a panel created by Congress, held a hearing entitled “An Urgent Need: Coordinating Reconstruction and Stabilization in Contingency Operations” to discuss reconstruction and stabilization efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan. In testimony, Stuart Bowen, the U.S. Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction, proposed a new office — the U.S. Office for Contingency Operations (USOCO) — to organize and implement civilian diplomatic, development and reconstruction efforts during stabilization and reconstruction operations, an idea he began floating last fall. According to Bowen, such an office is needed because “there is no one entity responsible and accountable for stabilization and reconstruction operations.” USOCO would be jointly answerable to both State and Defense, but situated in neither office.
But there is one major problem. As the Washington Independent reports, neither State nor Defense supports the idea. Undersecretary of Defense for Policy Michele Flournoy lauded Bowen for correctly identifying “under-funding [and] lack of capacities” with State and USAID, but argued no further structural reforms are needed. Deputy Secretary of State Jack Lew reportedly told Bowen that the proposal would receive “full consideration” in the ongoing QDDR process, but largely dismissed the idea as problematic. Lew noted that it would take the “policymaking responsibility away from the Secretary of State and department’s regional bureaus.”
Yet, there is another issue that nobody has mentioned. An office was created to deal with this problem. In 2004, then Secretary of State Colin Powell created he Office of the Coordinator for Reconstruction and Stabilization (S/CRS), whose mission is:
To lead, coordinate and institutionalize U.S. Government civilian capacity to prevent or prepare for post-conflict situations, and to help stabilize and reconstruct societies in transition from conflict or civil strife, so they can reach a sustainable path toward peace, democracy and a market economy.
In addition to S/CRS’s central role in preparing a robust civilian response capacity for S & R operations, the office is also responsibile for civil – military coordination. While the office has suffered from a dearth of funding since its establishment, significant funds for the office were included in the President’s FY10 budget request, and Congress largely appropriated the request last fall.
So, what would this office do that S/CRS shouldn’t be doing?
According to Bowen, S/CRS is a “remedial response.” It doesn’t go far enough to address the problems of civil – military coordination in S & R operations. “Funding continues to be divided, coordination and cooperation continue to absorb disproportionate amounts of resources and time, and outcomes are less than optimal,” according to Bowen’s testimony. Bowen argues that USOCO would address the problems of civil – military coordination experienced in Iraq, given that it would be an “executive authority below the President.” Implicit in Bowen’s proposal is the need for accountability in post-conflict environments.
Unfortunately, I haven’t been able to watch the hearing, but I would be curious to know what others think of this proposal.
Full details of Bowen’s proposal can be found here.