As much as $50 billion a year could be saved for U.S. taxpayers by providing better oversight over contractors hired by the military, U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., said recently.
A government inspector general who has been looking into the situation agrees it is a problem. Stuart W. Bowen Jr., special inspector general for the reconstruction project in Iraq, noted the Department of Defense never has performed a complete audit of its contractors. "They say it is impossible to do so," Bowen noted.
"That is unacceptable," he added.
It certainly is. An idea of the complexity and cost of contractors hired by the military can be gained from the number of them at work in Afghanistan. There, the U.S. has about 90,000 troops stationed - and about 113,000 private contractors.
Enormous abuses, including contractors paying the Taliban not to attack truck convoys, already are known from Afghanistan. No one can know the full extent of waste - and outright fraud - without a comprehensive investigation, however.
Manchin and Bowen are right. Such a probe should be launched, by Congress if the Pentagon won't do it.