The White House must explain

When President Bush signed the 2008 Defense Authorization bill Monday, he included a signing statement singling out four of the bill’s 2,887 sections that would be subject to the White House’s interpretation. One of the four sections would create the Commission on Wartime Contracting, an independent, bipartisan Commission to study the much-criticized wartime contracting.

The President’s signing statement says section 841, which creates the Commission, would “impose requirements that could inhibit the President’s ability to carry out his constitutional obligations to take care that the laws be faithfully executed, to protect national security, to supervise the executive branch, and to execute his authority as Commander in Chief.”

That is difficult to believe. “It is incumbent on the White House to explain why a bipartisan, independent commission investigating the now-infamous waste, fraud and abuse in the reconstruction contracting process in Iraq would be an undue encroachment on the President’s constitutional authority,” said Bob Edgar, president of Common Cause.

“How can bringing accountability and transparency to the process somehow inhibit President Bush’s ability to protect this country? In fact, one would think the President would embrace a chance to clean up the widely discredited contracting process.”

Problems with contracting and the Iraq War have gone hand in hand since the war started. As recently as September 2007, military officials said that contracts worth $6 billion to provide essential supplies to American troops in Kuwait, Iraq and Afghanistan were under review by criminal investigators. Officials also reported at the time that as much as $88 billion in contracts and programs were being audited for financial irregularities.

The Commission on Wartime Contracting, modeled after the Truman Commission of World War II that saved taxpayers millions of dollars, was embraced by then-President Roosevelt.

“Why is this President treating this commission with contempt?” Edgar said. “Given the cloud that has hung over the contracting process due to the close relationships of Vice President Cheney to Halliburton and other contractors, it would seem this President would be eager to clean up. He should not stand in the way of a thorough review of these procedures.”

Common Cause commends Sens. Jim Webb (D-VA) and Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin of Michigan for moving ahead to appoint the commission, despite the president’s resistance.