The reconstruction of Iraq has cost U.S. taxpayers nearly $30 billion so far, and is still plagued with problems, as evidenced by the daily power outages, degraded water supplies and skyrocketing local fuel prices. Government officials have laid much of the blame on the insurgency, saying it has drained military resources and made it too dangerous for work to proceed smoothly.
Yet a U.S. government report obtained by TIME says that's only part of the story. The report, to be issued this week by the special inspector general for Iraq reconstruction, catalogs a litany of blunders that had more to do with poor planning in Washington than with the insurgency or sectarian violence. Relying on private contractors with questionable loyalties was one problem, the report says. So was "haphazard" hiring practices that "substantially hindered coalition efforts" to get reconstruction going.
In particular, the report criticizes the Bush Administration for failing to attract government employees from outside the State and Defense departments to work in Iraq. Result: Scores of unqualified people parachuting in simply to build their résumés and rack up overtime. "You had these 90-day workers getting their tickets punched that indicated, 'I've been to Baghdad,'" said a former senior U.S. official in Iraq who is quoted in the report.
There's a measure of hope that things will improve since two of the report's four recommendations are now being carried out. First, the State Department is operating an office (albeit underfunded by Congress) to oversee reconstruction projects. Second, that office is coordinating its efforts with the Pentagon. The report also calls for a "civilian reserve corps" to serve as reconstruction "first responders." This has yet to get off the ground. Civilians are notably absent in Iraq even today, and many vital nonmilitary jobs are still being filled by soldiers who lack formal training.