Stung by Senate criticism, auditor of Afghan spending sacks aides

McClatchy NewspapersJanuary 4, 2011 

WASHINGTON — The top auditor of U.S. contracting in Afghanistan announced Tuesday that he had fired two of his deputies in a shake-up aimed at improving his investigations of waste and corruption.

Arnold Fields, the special inspector general for Afghanistan reconstruction, made the changes in his staff after coming under fire from four senators who wrote President Barack Obama late last year demanding his resignation. Fields said he is looking for replacements to run his audits and investigations divisions after concluding their work needed to be more in-depth.

Fields said the firings were partly in response to the congressional criticism. . "Certainly, I took seriously the concerns brought to my attention by the stakeholders on Capitol Hill," Fields said in an interview with McClatchy.

The senators have asserted that Fields' office has done a poor job of scrutinizing how $56 billion in reconstruction money is being spent in the war-torn nation.

Separately, a report by the federal Council of Inspectors General on Integrity and Efficiency concluded his office had problems with hiring, strategic planning and investigative policies.

Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., one of the senators who complained to Obama about Fields, said the ousters were not enough.

"I'm glad that Mr. Fields is finally acknowledging that improvements are needed at SIGAR," McCaskill said. "But SIGAR's shortcomings start at the very top and the changes need to happen there, as well. Until there is new leadership, my concerns remain. "

Fields, a retired Marine Corps major general, defended his office saying his office didn't receive full funding until the summer of 2009. He added that he has since addressed the council's concerns.

When asked what he thought of the senators' criticism, he responded, "My mother taught me not to quit and the Marine Corps taught me not to quit. I have kept my focus on the work at hand."

Fields also hired a new second in command for his office in November, whom he credited with helping with the staff changes. Herbert Richardson, the new deputy inspector general, is a former long-time FBI agent who worked previously for the inspector general of the Department of Energy.

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