Washington Babylon — May 7, 2007, 10:41 am

SIGIR Roast

I reported last week that Stuart Bowen Jr., the U.S. Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction (SIGIR), who has issued reports about the misuse of Iraqi reconstruction funds, is now under investigation himself for allegedly misspending taxpayer money. Some bloggers are wondering out loud whether the Special Inspector is the target of a campaign by the Bush Administration to silence its critics. The New York Times has raised the same possibility, saying in a May 4 story, “A federal official whose investigations of waste and corruption in Iraq have repeatedly embarrassed the Bush Administration is now being investigated himself by an oversight committee with close links to the White House.”

I can understand why people are suspicious that the administration is behind the charges against Bowen–Bush does, after all, have a lengthy record of attacking his perceived enemies, as the current U.S. attorney scandal well illustrates–but in this case the allegation makes no sense.

For those unfamiliar with Bowen, back in 2004, the year he was appointed as SIGIR, the American Prospect described him as:

a Texas lawyer with longtime ties to President Bush. Before being appointed Inspector General, Bowen worked directly for the President for eight years–most recently as a White House legal counselor, and before that in the Texas governor’s office.

The Prospect said Bowen had “displayed a penchant for placing ideology and political loyalty above independent analysis,” and noted that Bowen’s services in Texas included making flagrantly dishonest arguments against death row reprieves.

So Bowen is an unlikely hero for those who are now thrusting him forward as a victim of the Bush Administration. Now, however, the argument goes that whatever Bowen’s origins, SIGIR put out a series of damning reports during his tenure, which embarrassed the administration and led it to retaliate against him. There’s some truth to the first part of that statement, but that doesn’t make the second part accurate.

People familiar with the story tell me that a group of SIGIR auditors in Iraq raised the first complaints against Bowen back in mid-2004. One problem was that Bowen rarely turned up for work. Instead, he spent as many as four days a week in his trailer, where he’d have staffers deliver his meals. Work meetings set up for Bowen were repeatedly canceled, because he claimed he wasn’t feeling well. Yet I’m told he never sought medical help, never took sick leave, and always billed the government for full-time services.

A steady stream of other complaints ensued from SIGIR employees in Iraq and Crystal City, Virginia, the U.S. headquarters for the Special Inspector. The most serious allegation, as I noted the other day, is that Bowen may have violated waste and fraud rules in commissioning a glossy, expensive history of the SIGIR. Other complaints included cronyism and retribution and wrongful termination of people who ran afoul of Bowen.

The current investigation was triggered when six former SIGIR employees filed a complaint in February 2006 with the President’s Council on Integrity and Efficiency, which polices Inspectors General offices. Thus the origins of the case are not political pressure from the White House, but action by whistleblowers. And I’m confident that these whistleblowers are not a cabal of Republicans doing the administration’s bidding. I’d also note here that while the SIGIR reports are politically embarrassing, the general news out of Iraq is so relentlessly negative that it’s hard to imagine at this point that Bowen’s work is a chief concern to the administration.

Bowen has done some good work at SIGIR, but that doesn’t win him a pass if he in fact has been a no-show at work, falsely billed the government for his time, and has blown large sums of taxpayer money on a frivolous book project (that perhaps not incidentally will serve to build his public stature, which will be helpful if he decides, as rumored, to launch a political career). Do the charges against Bowen, if accurate, amount to the biggest scandal of the Bush years? Hardly. But the complaints from the whistleblowers certainly merit investigation.

Share
Single Page

More from Ken Silverstein:

From the November 2013 issue

Dirty South

The foul legacy of Louisiana oil

Perspective October 23, 2013, 8:00 am

On Brining and Dining

How pro-oil Louisiana politicians have shaped American environmental policy

Postcard October 16, 2013, 8:00 am

The Most Cajun Place on Earth

A trip to one of the properties at issue in Louisiana’s oil-pollution lawsuits 

Get access to 164 years of
Harper’s for only $39.99

United States Canada

CATEGORIES

THE CURRENT ISSUE

October 2014

Cassandra Among the
Creeps

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

“Today Is Better Than Tomorrow”

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

PBS Self-Destructs

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

The Monkey Did It

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

view Table Content

FEATURED ON HARPERS.ORG

Post
 
Rebecca Solnit on silencing women, a Marine commander returns to Iraq, the decline of PBS, and more
Article
Cassandra Among the Creeps·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

On silencing women
“The old framework of feminine mendacity and murky-mindedness is still routinely trotted out, and we should learn to recognize it for what it is.”
Photograph © Sallie Dean Shatz
Post
Ending College Sexual Assault·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

“This is not a fable about a young woman whose dreams were dashed by a sexual predator. Maya’s narrative is one of institutional failure at a school desperately trying to adapt.”
Photograph © AP/Josh Reynolds
Post
 
"Clothes are a bit like eating: you have to dress yourself. You have to eat, and even if you eat pizza all day long, that’s still a choice."
Photograph © G Powell
Article
“Today Is Better Than Tomorrow”·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

“Iraq has every disease there is; its mind is deranged with too many voices, its organs corrupted, its limbs only long enough to tear at its own body.”
Photograph by Benjamin Busch

Number of times President Obama mentioned “climate change” in his 2012 State of the Union address:

1

Heroin addiction in Afghanistan was determined to have risen by 140 percent since 2005.

“All I saw,” said a 12-year-old neighbor of visits to the man’s house, “was just cats in little diapers.”

Subscribe to the Weekly Review newsletter. Don’t worry, we won’t sell your email address!

HARPER’S FINEST

In Praise of Idleness

By

I hope that after reading the following pages the leaders of the Y. M. C. A. will start a campaign to induce good young men to do nothing. If so, I shall not have lived in vain.

Subscribe Today