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Plan to Coordinate Civil and Military Affairs Gets Chilly Welcome


Stuart Bowen testifies before Congress on Iraq reconstruction in 2007. (Mark Murrmann/ZUMA Press)

Just as the U.S. government’s Iraq reconstruction watchdog formally unveils a proposal to revamp the integration of civilian and military activities in combat zones, opposition from the State Department and the Pentagon threatens to scotch the whole effort.

[Security1]When he testifies Monday before the congressionally created Commission on Wartime Contracting, Stuart Bowen, the U.S. Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction, will present his solution for the poor coordination, planning and policy implementation among U.S. diplomats, aid workers and military personnel he has documented in Iraq since 2004. Bowen proposes the creation of a new agency, known as the U.S. Office for Contingency Operations and jointly answerable to State and Defense, to be responsible for organizing and implementing civilian diplomatic, development and reconstruction efforts and interfacing with the military during stabilization and reconstruction operations. First reported by The Washington Independent in November, Bowen’s so-called USOCO proposal, the product of months of effort by him and his deputy Ginger Cruz, will be printed Monday and delivered to every member of Congress by Tuesday.

There’s only one problem. The two departments to which USOCO would report are both against the idea.

In formal responses appended to the USOCO paper, two senior administration officials praise Bowen’s effort and endorse his diagnosis that civilian and military efforts in stabilization and reconstruction missions suffer from an ad hoc planning and implementation structure, saying he “correctly identifies under-funding [and] lack of capacities” within State and the U.S. Agency for International Development as a key weakness. But both reject USOCO as a solution. Undersecretary of Defense for Policy Michele Flournoy writes that the problem is “one of capacity and not of structure” and observes that congressional support for a restructuring “in today’s fiscally constrained environment seems unlikely.”

Deputy Secretary of State Jack Lew, presenting State’s lengthy formal response to USOCO, pledges to Bowen that the USOCO proposal will receive “full consideration” from an ongoing State Department and USAID comprehensive review of development and diplomacy known as the QDDR. But he says Bowen’s fix is “problematic on several fronts,” and that USOCO would take too much policymaking responsibility away from the Secretary of State and the department’s regional bureaus.

While the State Department’s formal response to Bowen embraces some of his specific proposals to bolster civilian planning and budgeting authorities for stabilization operations, it suggests that the current Afghanistan campaign, which “far surpasses previous examples of civilian input into military planning,” already shows that State and Defense can cooperate successfully, even on an ad hoc basis. State denies the need for new institutional structures like USOCO for improving such coordination and chides the focus on stabilization and reconstruction operations as “an overly narrow view of the challenges that face U.S. foreign policy over the coming years.”

Bowen, in an interview with TWI, indicated that he will now pivot to selling USOCO on Capitol Hill. He said the fact that both Lew and Flournoy “specifically agreed with most of our targeted recommendations” in the paper provided an opportunity to convince Congress that existing bureaucratic structures are insufficient to deal with the problem. In addition to the Commission on Wartime Contracting hearing today, Bowen is scheduled to testify before the oversight subcommittee of the House Foreign Affairs Committee on Wednesday.


Image from "Applying Iraq’s Hard Lessons to the Reform of Stabilization and Reconstruction Operations (February 2010)" by Stuart Bowen.

“The core issue is this,” Bowen said. “There is no one entity responsible and accountable for stabilization and reconstruction operations. They are part of the missions of the departments of State and Defense, part of USAID’s mission, and the missions of the departments of Treasure, Agriculture and Justice, among others, but there is no central point of planning and management, and that bred the problems of poor coordination and weak integration we’ve encountered” in Iraq and Afghanistan.

It is unclear where the White House stands on the issue. Gayle Smith, the National Security Council senior director for global development and humanitarian affairs, is said to be skeptical of USOCO, but White House officials would not comment.

But USOCO still has a number of high-profile supporters. In the USOCO proposal, Bowen cites the endorsement of retired Lt. Gen. Brent Scowcroft, the national security adviser to President George H.W. Bush, and Spike Stevenson, the former top USAID official in Iraq. And in an interview last month, Ryan Crocker, the well-respected former ambassador to Iraq during the 2007 troop surge, also said that existing bureaucratic structures were insufficient to handle stabilization and reconstruction missions. “The current situation requires a perpetual reinventing of wheels and a huge amount of effort by those trying to manage contingencies,” Crocker told TWI.

Bowen, who has earned bipartisan plaudits on Capitol Hill for years by identifying millions of dollars in wasted or poorly managed Iraq contracts, intends to test Flournoy’s proposition that Congress will have no appetite for the big bureaucratic overhaul USOCO represents. In addition to the hearings this week and the formal publication of the proposal, he is pushing USOCO to key members of Congress, including the leaderships of the House and Senate foreign affairs and armed services committees, as well as the Senate Government Reform and Homeland Security Committee.

“Resistance does not mean end of the argument, it just means we continue,” Bowen said. “This issue is still very much in flux.”

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