Bipartisan legislation that would provide the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) with the authority it needs to quickly hire experienced, well-qualified staff to conduct rigorous oversight of reconstruction efforts in Afghanistan unanimously passed the Senate this week. The legislation was co-authored by Ranking Member of the Senate Homeland Security Committee Susan Collins (R-ME), Chairman Joe Lieberman (I-CT), and Senator Tom Coburn (R-OK). The mission of the SIGAR is to conduct audits and investigations of the humanitarian and reconstruction assistance that U.S. has provided to Afghanistan, which currently stands at about $32 billion since 2001, to eliminate waste, fraud, and abuse.

Original co-sponsors of the legislation also include Carl Levin (D-MI), John McCain (R-AZ), Claire McCaskill (D-MO), and Charles Grassley (R-IA).

Although the SIGAR was sworn into office in July 2008, it has not yet conducted any independent audits or investigations. SIGAR has faced difficultly in hiring the auditors and investigators it needs to conduct necessary oversight. Although authorized a total of 18 auditors, 13 inspectors, and three investigators, SIGAR has only five auditors, two inspectors, and one investigator.

“SIGAR’s efforts to quickly hire experienced staff have been hindered by the often long and difficult government hiring process,” said Senator Collins. “The office’s hiring needs are further complicated by the challenging task of recruiting well-qualified staff willing to spend a year in a dangerous environment. This legislation would provide the SIGAR with the authority to select, appoint, and employ the staff needed to perform effective oversight of Afghanistan reconstruction efforts.”

Senator Lieberman said, “This legislation will allow the SIGAR to use special civil service authorities so he can quickly hire the experienced auditors, inspectors and other professionals he needs to ensure that Afghanistan reconstruction projects are progressing efficiently, effectively, and with a minimum of waste fraud and abuse.”

“SIGAR is a vital part of our Afghanistan reconstruction effort, which is about turning the service and sacrifices of our servicemen and women into sustainable and permanent change on the ground. This legislation will help ensure that our reconstruction effort can improve and adapt quickly, just like the enemy we are fighting,” Dr. Coburn said.

The legislation will allow SIGAR to identify and quickly hire candidates, avoiding civil service requirements that are unnecessary for this unique and temporary organization. Employees hired under this new authority can serve until the termination of the SIGAR’s office.

“If the SIGAR would have had this authority from the office’s inception, it likely would be much further along in conducting its oversight work. It is expected that once the SIGAR can quickly hire the skilled and experienced auditors and investigators it needs, the office’s oversight activities will greatly increase,” said Senator Collins.

The legislation must now be passed by the House of Representatives.