U.S. watchdog for Afghanistan contracting resigns

McClatchy NewspapersJanuary 10, 2011 

WASHINGTON — The embattled top watchdog of U.S. contracting in Afghanistan announced Monday that he's resigning days after vowing to resist congressional demands to step down.

Arnold Fields, the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction, offered no explanation for his decision to leave. His resignation becomes official at the beginning of next month.

"I depart confident in the knowledge that SIGAR is positioned to provide essential support to the president's strategy," he said.

Fields' resignation leaves vacant a key post in the Obama administration's push for bringing greater accountability to U.S. contracting in Afghanistan.

McClatchy reported in November that over the past three years, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers construction projects in Afghanistan have failed, face serious delays or resulted in subpar work, costing American taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars and hobbling U.S. efforts to stabilize the country.

Four senators accused Fields' office of doing a poor job of scrutinizing how $56 billion in reconstruction money is being spent in the war-torn nation. The senators demanded Fields' resignation in a letter to President Barack Obama late last year.

Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., chairs a Senate contracting oversight subcommittee that has looked into the contracting issues in Iraq and Afghanistan.

"With billions of dollars being spent in Afghanistan, our country must have top notch leadership at the agency responsible for rooting out the waste and fraud that can jeopardize our efforts," she said, adding of Fields, "I hope that his departure will allow the agency to turn over a new leaf."

Last week, Fields fired two of his deputies partly in response to the congressional criticism. However, Fields, a retired Marine Corps major general, told McClatchy, he had no plans to resign saying: "The Marine Corps taught me not to quit."

But a report by the federal Council of Inspectors General on Integrity and Efficiency had fueled the calls for his resignation. The council recommended that the Justice Department consider revoking the special inspector general's law enforcement authority and concluded his office had problems with hiring, strategic planning and investigative policies.

The White House, however, praised Fields in a statement about his resignation.

"Under General Fields' tenure, SIGAR produced numerous critical reports that have improved reconstruction efforts, and helped insure that U.S.-funded programs are achieving their objectives," the White House said in a statement.

(Margaret Talev and David Goldstein contributed to this article.)

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