As federal spending for Operation Inherent Resolve surpasses the $1 billion mark, the U.S. military campaign against ISIS forces in Iraq and Syria has a new oversight team. Late last month, the Honorable Jon T. Rymer, Inspector General for the Department of Defense (“DoD”), was designated lead inspector general (“IG”) for this overseas contingency operation. Mr. Rymer is the first lead IG designated in response to an amendment to the Inspector General Act (“the Act”). As required by the Act, he will oversee this mission in conjunction with the Department of State and the Agency for International Development (“AID”) Offices of Inspector General.
In the past, special IG offices have provided oversight to overseas contingency operations, such as the reconstruction efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan. These oversight bodies can have positive implications for government contractors performing in these regions. For instance, as we have discussed previously, a Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (“SIGAR”) report found that the Afghan government levied nearly a billion dollars of tax on contractors supporting the mission in Afghanistan despite bilateral agreements negotiated between the U.S. and Afghan governments that exempted the contractors from at least some of the levied taxes.
However, unlike SIGAR and other special IG offices that Congress has created on an ad hoc basis, Mr. Rymer’s designation came as the result of an amendment to the Act, which provides that a lead IG (and associate IGs, as necessary) must be designated as a matter of course for an overseas contingency operation that exceeds sixty days. The lead IG must be chosen from the IGs for the DoD, Department of State, or AID. This amendment was part of the Comprehensive Contingency Contracting Reform Act championed by Senator Claire McCaskill and enacted as part of the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2013.
The Act tasks the lead IG for an overseas contingency operation with, among other things, creating a joint strategic plan to conduct a comprehensive oversight of “all aspects” of the contingency operation. This oversight includes performing audits, investigations, and inspections—either independently or jointly with the Department of State and AID Offices of Inspector General—to ensure oversight of “all programs and operations” conducted by the federal government in support of the overseas contingency operation.
The Act also charges the lead IG with assessing “the accuracy of information provided by Federal agencies relating to obligations and expenditures, costs of programs and projects, accountability of funds, and the award and execution of major contracts, grants, and agreements in support of the contingency operation.” The IG must present to Congress and make available to the public a bi-annual report concerning the oversight efforts of the lead and associate IGs, including the status and results of any audits, investigations, and inspections.
With the first report coming in April 2015, the implications and effectiveness of this new approach to oversight with respect to overseas contingency operations is not yet clear. Indeed, the oversight authority provided by the Act is arguably quite broad, allowing for oversight of “all aspects” of the overseas contingency operation. We will continue to closely watch how this authority is put into practice as Mr. Rymer becomes the first lead inspector general designated to provide oversight under this new provision.