GAO to White House: We Hate to Say We Told You So, But We Told You So

The NYT had a story yesterday reporting that the Iraqis just can’t seem to spend its reconstruction money as quickly as it’s supposed to be spending it.

Highly promising figures that the administration cited to demonstrate economic progress in Iraq last fall, when Congress was considering whether to continue financing the war, cannot be substantiated by official Iraqi budget records, the Government Accountability Office reported Tuesday.

The Iraqi government had been severely criticized for failing to spend billions of dollars of its oil revenues in 2006 to finance its own reconstruction, but last September the administration said Iraq had greatly accelerated such spending. By July 2007, the administration said, Iraq had spent some 24 percent of $10 billion set aside for reconstruction that year.

As Gen. David H. Petraeus, the top American commander in Iraq, and Ryan C. Crocker, the American ambassador to Iraq, prepared in September to report to Congress on the state of the war, the economic figures were a rare sign of progress within Iraq’s often dysfunctional government.

But in its report on Tuesday, the accountability office said official Iraqi Finance Ministry records showed that Iraq had spent only 4.4 percent of the reconstruction budget by August 2007. It also said that the rate of spending had substantially slowed from the previous year.

What the NYT doesn’t say, though, is that the GAO itself also reported on how much money Iraq had spent, in its report issued just before Petraeus’ dog and pony show. In fact, the benchmark of whether Iraq was spending its money as quickly it was supposed to was one of the ones on which the GAO and the Administration disagreed. Whereas the GAO declared that Iraq had "partially met" its goal to spend $10 billion on reconstruction, the Administration declared Iraq’s progress "satisfactory." So the GAO’s report is really the GAO providing evidence that its more pessimistic measures were correct.

It’s in that context–the knowledge that the Administration was trying to claim full credit for something the GAO had rather generously awarded a gentleman’s C–that you should read the rest of the article, describing how the Administration managed to invent rosy numbers to as declare the Iraq government was making progress.

The reason for the difference, said Joseph A. Christoff, the G.A.O.’s director of international affairs and trade, was that few official Iraqi figures for 2007 were available when General Petraeus and Mr. Crocker went to Congress.

So the administration, with the help of the Finance Ministry in Baghdad, appears to have relied on a combination of indicators, including real expenditures, ministries’ suggestions of projects they intended to carry out, and contracts that were still under negotiation, Mr. Christoff said. But actual spending does not seem to have lived up to those estimates for spending on reconstruction, a budget item sometimes called capital or investment expenditures, he added.

“So it looked like an improvement, but it wasn’t an improvement,” he said.

In other words, the Administration went to the Iraqi government, said, "we’d like to give you a passing grade on this issue, so tell us what we want to hear." And voila! Instant propaganda, all ready and packaged to persuade the American people to dump billions more into this money sinkhole of a war.

Just another example of where the Administration ignored hard data in favor of propaganda it could use to support its war.

16 replies
  1. AZ Matt says:

    You really didn’t think that Bushco was right in the first place? Their washing machines only have the Spin Cycles.

    I guess the shining stars on Petraeus’ shoulders were too glittery for most people at the time. It is almost surprising that the Bushco regime has not arranged for GAO to disappear.

    • emptywheel says:

      No, but I’m rather glad the GAO (with Congessional mandate to do so) has proven them wrong like this. I need to go find the report, but apparently State and Treasury were none too happy about GAO’s report.

      • AZ Matt says:

        I thought it was “sticks-n-stones will break my bones but words will never hurt me”. I hope they hurt Bushco. They don’t care if they are proven wrong. Unless Congress gets off it collective butt that will stay the attitude.

        • phred says:

          My dad always thought that saying was exactly backwards — broken bones will heal, but certain words will stick with you forever. And in the case of BushCo, I’m still hoping that someone’s words will put them all behind bars.

          • CTuttle says:

            I’m still hoping that someone’s words will put them all behind bars.

            AGAG’s, TurdBlossom’s, Addington’s, Yoo’s, Bybee’s, Meir’s,… ad nauseum… At least one, anyone…???

    • klynn says:


      You are too much bmaz.

      The good news… A former friend was the assistant director of the GAO. Trust me, not people one should even think of trying to hoodwink.

      This is great theater. The “play out” will be painful for the Administration.

  2. Tross says:

    If Congress doesn’t do anything about this (and I don’t expect that they will) they better not say a word to President Clint/Edw/Obama about fiscal responsibility in the next 8 years.

    Of course, we know the fiscal conservatives will spontaneously re-appear around mid-January, 2009.

    • watercarrier4diogenes says:

      Nahh, he’s too busy setting up the whiz-bang giveaway of telecom immunity/bush immunity and warrantless wiretapping. I’m for adding him to CTuttle’s list @10.

  3. TexBetsy says:

    In other words, the Administration went to the Iraqi government, said, “we’d like to give you a passing grade on this issue, so tell us what we want to hear.” And voila! Instant propaganda, all ready and packaged to persuade the American people to dump billions more into this money sinkhole of a war.

    Hi EW. Great explanation of how propoganda works!

  4. Hugh says:

    The Iraqi central government is extremely weak and ineffective. The new law on Baathists is a case in point. It has little or no ability to enforce it, and it is not clear that the new law even if it could be implemented would really change anything. It might even be worse than the current policy.

    Similarly, the central government lacks the mechanisms to spend money allocated for reconstruction. Since a lot of this would be lost or stolen anyway, it leaves me with the impression that it can’t even steal effectively.

  5. AZ Matt says:

    From the GAO report:

    In its July 2007 report, the administration cited satisfactory progress with this benchmark because the Ministry of Finance was releasing funds to ministries and provinces. The U.S. Embassy reported that the Ministry of Finance released 25 percent and 10 percent of 2007 capital project and reconstruction budget funds to ministries and provinces, respectively, in the first 5 months of the year. However, funding releases are not expenditures and may not be a reliable indicator of future spending by ministries and provinces. The administration’s report noted that capacity constraints and security problems may affect Iraq’s ability to accelerate its spending and procurement activities.

    GAO to Congress, the Bushies are Spinnnnnning like crazy.

  6. MsAnnaNOLA says:

    Hey EW I couldn’t comment on the next post (Tony Fratto) because of site weirdness….but FWIW:

    It seems to me if there is a giant stack of whitehouse emails that are discoverable for a period of time where bad things happened, isn’t it possible that the only way to know what is there is to just print it all out and go through it. I mean we have huge document dumps regularly. Why not doc dump these on some investigators and get it out there. Maybe give the doc dump to a special prosecutor?

    I am no expert in these matters but sometimes low tech is the only way to get stuff done. I mean if “not archived properly” is the question…well lets figure out a way to find it. If you can figure out why it is missing it seems like you could just send it all to the printer and voila…lots of boring reading but there may be a few jems in there.

    Ok a little snark…so if the print method doesn’t work maybe we can just get one of those “data mining” programs (like the CIA or whoever did TALON) to go through the email archives… ya know look for key word like Karl Rove, US Atty, Flame, Plame, Novak, and so on and so forth. Seems like there may be lots to go through but then again in the interest of justice I am sure many would volunteer to go through it.

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