As SIGIR Stands Down, USOCO May Stand Up
Last week I broke the story of a proposal from Stuart Bowen, the inspector general for the Iraq war, to create a new agency for coordinating and directing civilian governance and development activities in war zones. Bowen wants the envisioned agency, known as the U.S. Office for Contingency Operations or USOCO, to stand up in time to help out with the Afghanistan war. (Existing efforts at bolstering a civilian presence in war zones, like the State Department’s Coordinator for Reconstruction and Stabilization, don’t actually deal with the wars the U.S. is fighting. Crazy, right?)
But before Bowen gets to USOCO, his own organization, known as SIGIR (“Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction”), has to go out of business. To be clear, Bowen told me he’s not looking to run USOCO; I’m just using this as a cheap transition device to get to Josh Rogin’s report in Foreign Policy on the last days of SIGIR:
Bowen is currently searching for a way to keep SIGIR’s institutional knowledge and expertise in the government and to keep his staff employed. He has been shopping around town his idea for a new U.S. government agency that would manage all reconstruction efforts in areas where the military is deployed. He calls it the U.S. Office for Contingency Operations, which would exist in perpetuity and stand independent of either the State or Defense Departments, as SIGIR does now.
“It assumes that over time, contingencies will occur,” said Bowen, “It’s sort of like FEMA. FEMA is set up to address disasters, but disasters aren’t continuous. The history of the last 50 years, with 15 contingencies or so, indicates that the next 50 years will probably have more contingency operations.”
Rogin reports that Bowen met on Thursday with Deputy Secretary of State Jim Steinberg and will soon get an audience with Anne-Marie Slaughter, State’s policy planning chief who’s in charge of a big diplomacy and development review.