The watchdog who tracks the billions of taxpayer dollars spent to rebuild Afghanistan says government officials have tried to silence him because they think he’s embarrassing the White House and Afghan President Hamid Karzai by pointing out the waste and fraud.
John Sopko, the special inspector general for Afghanistan reconstruction, used a speech at the New America Foundation on Wednesday to blast government “bureaucrats”’ who have told him to stop publicizing damning audits that detail case after case of waste, corruption and mismanagement of rebuilding efforts in Afghanistan. Some government officials have even complained that they aren’t allowed to pre-screen or edit his reports, he said.
“Since my appointment by the president last summer, I have been surprised to learn how many people both in and out of the government do not understand the role of an independent inspector general,” Sopko said.
The Pentagon did not address Sopko’s remarks about pre-screening, but it endorsed his role keeping watch over the Afghanistan effort.
“We value inputs from independent oversight, including from inspectors-general, who play a key role in advancing the missions of the Department of Defense,” said press secretary George Little.
Even so, Sopko slammed the government for what he called a hostile attitude toward his work.
“Over the last 10 months, I have been criticized by some bureaucrats for not pre-clearing my press releases with them, for not letting them edit the titles of my audits, for talking too much to Congress, for talking too much to the press … and, basically, for not being a ‘team player’ and undermining ‘our country’s mission in Afghanistan,’” he said.
“Many in our government, even some surprisingly senior officials you think would know better, seem to believe that an inspector general should be their partner — or, more correctly, their silent partner,” he said. “In their opinion, my reports should be slipped in a sealed envelope in the dead of night under the door — never to see the light of day — because those reports could embarrass the administration, embarrass President Karzai, embarrass Afghanistan.”
Sopko said he wanted to make it clear that he wants Afghanistan to succeed and his work isn’t meant to embarrass anyone.
“I support the mission in Afghanistan,” he said. “That is why I accepted the appointment. We must defeat the terrorists hiding in Afghanistan and build up an Afghan government capable of ensuring that Afghanistan will never again become a safe haven for those who want to harm the United States.”
Since taking office last July, Sopko has increased the number of audits and investigations threefold. His office has made 73 recommendations to government agencies that he says would save at least $450 million if enacted.
Sopko defended his aggressive oversight of billions of taxpayer dollars being spent in Afghanistan, saying he’s just trying to do the right thing.
“I am not a cheerleader. I’m a watchdog — it is my job to point out what isn’t working, so it can be fixed. To do it any other way is to just muddle along and then nothing will change,” he said.