U.S. Lagging on ‘Key Milestones’ in Transition Plan for Iraq

The U.S. is failing to meet “key milestones” in advance of the planned Oct. 1 handover of responsibilities in Iraq from the U.S. military to the State Department, according to a report being issued today by the State Department’s Inspector General.

“Although effective planning mechanisms are in place to manage the transition process, some key milestones are not being met, and there is a risk that some programs and operations will not be ready,” the report said.

The report outlined delays in setting up the organizations and security arrangements needed by State Department personnel who are assuming responsibility from the U.S. military as the remaining 50,000 U.S. troops leave this year. It repeats many of the criticisms made of the transition by the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction and by the Commission on Wartime Contracting.

“Some slippage is due to unanticipated events beyond the Department’s control, such as securing land use and lease agreements,” the Inspector General’s report said.

Still, “other problems are the result of decision-making delays or the lack of final decisions” with less than five months before the State Department assumes control of the mission.

‘Years of Effort’

The report noted that “establishing a viable diplomatic mission to maintain Iraq as a strategic partner will almost certainly require years of effort and investment of considerable resources” even as Congress grapples with a “tightening fiscal situation.”

Setting up an Office of Security Cooperation to manage the U.S. defense relationship is “significantly behind schedule and the office is unlikely to reach full mission capability by October 2011,” the Inspector General said.

The office will be responsible for managing more than $13 billion in military sales and for advising, training and equipping Iraqi forces.

Other unresolved issues include security matters as well as the provision of sufficient housing and electricity in the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad to accommodate additional workers, the report said.

The State Department plans to deploy more than 7,000 private security guards to provide protection throughout Iraq.

‘Significant Challenge’

Even with that number of security personnel, “conducting frequent secure ground movements” outside Baghdad “will be a significant challenge,” the report said.

Iraq’s military is now responsible for securing Baghdad’s International Zone, where most State Department employees will live.

The Iraqi units have performed “adequately.” Shortcomings include unreliable “intelligence support” intended to alert diplomatic personnel to security threats, the report said.

There is also an unresolved issue of how to house 8,000 employees expected by Dec. 31 with the embassy’s existing stock of 3,959 beds, the report said.

The embassy is negotiating more housing in the International Zone.

State Department officials told the auditors from the Inspector General’s office that “creative ways would be found to accommodate the influx” including “hot bunking” -- sharing sleeping rooms by shifts -- and requiring private contractors find accommodations in nearby neighborhoods.

“None of these options is optimal or sustainable in the long run,” the report said.

Another Complication

Another need is to increase the embassy’s electrical generation system, which is “already operating at full capacity.”

Operating at full power means the system will need maintenance “sooner than planned, which will decrease the amount of electricity available to support operations at a time when operations and demand for electricity will be increasing,” it said.

The report also noted the cost and said “the uncertain budgetary situation is also hampering the transition process.”

The State Department requested $6.3 billion in fiscal year 2012 for its expanded responsibilities in Iraq, “but recent congressional debate foretells a tightening fiscal situation that may require hard choices in the years ahead.”

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