WASHINGTON -- When Claire McCaskill set out to crack down on waste and fraud in wartime contracting six years ago, the newbie senator from Missouri figured that finding ways to save taxpayer dollars in Iraq and Afghanistan would be a no-brainer project, even in the highly partisan halls of Congress.
"Like most who come to Washington for the first time, I assumed that this would not be a heavy lift," McCaskill said in a recent interview with McClatchy Newspapers. "I assumed that cleaning up war contracting and profiteering would be a consensus item that would fly through the process, and I learned quickly that that was very naive."
This month -- after half a dozen years of hearings, reports, overseas fact-finding trips, painful compromises and some last-minute, round-the-clock negotiating -- the first substantial overhaul of the federal government's wartime contracting practices since World War II finally became law, with McCaskill as its chief architect. The president signed it Jan. 2 as part of the 2013 National Defense Authorization Act, the day before McCaskill, a Democrat, was sworn in for her second Senate term.
In the end, McCaskill didn't get everything she wanted. Some of her proposals were dropped or scaled back, and she acknowledges that one consequence of the new law will be additional paperwork for the federal bureaucracy -- without any additional funding. But she said the bill was among the most satisfying accomplishments of her Senate career.
Among the worst examples of waste, fraud and abuse that the new law was designed to prevent were an ineffective water plant that Iraqis couldn't operate or maintain, a still-unfinished highway in Afghanistan that's wildly over budget at $176 million and a $300 million power plant near Kabul that Afghans can't afford to operate because the diesel fuel required to run it is too costly.
The power plant was a project by Black & Veatch, an engineering and construction firm based in Overland Park, Kan.
Black & Veatch referred questions about the feasibility of the plant to the U.S. Agency for International Development, which funded the project.