Tuesday, May 04, 2004

FOG OF WAR Is the Coalition Provisional Authority--you know, the one run by L. Paul Bremer--an arm of the White House? Is it an independent agency within the federal government? Is it an international organization?

Digby points us to this Slate article noting that the Congressional Research Service (which is a federal agency) isn't sure.

From the CRS report:

It is unclear whether CPA is a federal agency...The lack of an authoritative and unambiguous statement about how this organization was established, by whom, and under what authority leaves open many questions, particularly in the areas of oversight and accountability. Some executive branch documents support the notion that it was created by the President, possibly as the result of a National Security Presidential Directive (NSPD). (This document, if it exists, has not been made available to the public.) The other possibility is that the authority was created by, or pursuant to, United Nations Security Council Resolution 1483 (2003).

The first line of the CPA's homepage embraces the latter interpretation:
The Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) is the name of the temporary governing body which has been designated by the United Nations as the lawful government of Iraq until such time as Iraq is politically and socially stable enough to assume its sovereignty.

Does any of this matter? Eric Umansky at Slate notes:
The General Accounting Office, the government's auditor, usually has the power to investigate bidding processes by a federal agency when the losing contractors suspect something fishy has happened.

At least two companies have requested that the GAO investigate specific CPA contracts; they were denied. After all, a federal procurement office insisted, whatever Congress may have said in the $87 billion Iraq bill, the "CPA is not an entity of the United States Government."

But to me, contract disputes are the least of it. The CPA is more than just a giant general contractor--right now it's the de facto government of Iraq.

And as the last several days have made clear, absence of oversight and murkiness in the chain-of-accountability invite problems far more serious than faulty bidding processes.

CONTRAPOSITIVE is edited by Dan Aibel. Dan's a playwright. He lives in New York City.