Norm Coleman: Has fraud in Iraq gone unchallenged? No.

  • Article by: NORM COLEMAN
  • September 28, 2008 - 8:57 AM
Throughout my term in the Senate, I've fought tirelessly to protect taxpayers, and I've accumulated an aggressive record of oversight. While my political opponents will attempt to undermine that record for political gain, as Harry Truman said, "There's no substitute for the facts." ¶ Here are the facts: During my tenure on the Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations (PSI), I've worked with my Democratic counterpart, Sen. Carl Levin, to create the most bipartisan committee in Congress. Together, we have conducted numerous bipartisan investigations -- holding 42 hearings and issuing numerous reports -- examining a wide range of problems facing Americans, like abusive credit practices, vulnerabilities in homeland security and waste of tax dollars in government programs like Medicare. ¶ I have made exposing waste, fraud and abuse a top priority. In total, the subcommittee's investigations during my tenure have identified $81 billion in fraud, waste and abuse of American tax dollars -- and that's a conservative estimate. Just this past week I released the results of another investigation identifying additional billions in questionable Medicare payments.

I have conducted numerous investigations to uncover failing government programs and fix the problems, including recovering millions in back taxes from contractors for the Department of Defense and other federal agencies who cheat on their taxes; uncovering how Medicare paid almost $100 million in claims tied to dead doctors; revealing that more than a million companies owe $58 billion in payroll taxes, and exposing tax-cheating Medicare and Medicaid providers.

We've examined consumer protection matters to prevent bad actors from preying on our most vulnerable citizens. Our investigation into the credit counseling industry is an illustrative example. We revealed how swindlers were using charities to prey on thousands of Americans who were drowning in debt. Our hearing and report led to a major shakeup in the credit counseling industry and spurred the federal government to increase its efforts to shut down these operations. We hold businesses, just like government agencies, accountable for their actions.

In addition, PSI's investigations into America's vulnerabilities to a nuclear- or dirty-bomb attack have made us safer. We identified weaknesses in the system and have worked to fix them: improving the installation of radiation detection equipment at U.S. and foreign ports to guarantee the safety of U.S.-bound cargo; tightening guidelines to further secure our global supply chain, and pushing for more rigorous licensing procedures to ensure that radioactive materials stay out of the wrong hands.

Al Franken is simply stuck in attack mode. He has attempted to paint PSI as a committee with a partisan agenda, and one that was solely responsible for oversight in Iraq. The truth is PSI is one of the most bipartisan subcommittees in the Senate, and Sen. Levin's own staff director on PSI has publicly noted that we have worked "hand in glove."

Franken's claims that partisan interests blocked PSI from investigating Iraq reconstruction are simply false. Under PSI rules, both the top Democrat and top Republican on the subcommittee can initiate investigations into anything they want, without the approval of the chairman. Levin, who was the top Democrat when I chaired the subcommittee, never requested or initiated any investigations into Iraq reconstruction. In fact, over the last two years, when Levin has chaired the subcommittee, there have been no efforts to use the subcommittee to investigate Iraq reconstruction.

The reason is simple. There are at least 12 government entities auditing U.S. government operations and expenditures related to Iraq, ranging from military contracting to Iraqi reconstruction. These organizations include the Inspector Generals from the Army, U.S. Agency for International Development, the Defense Department, the State Department and the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction (SIGIR). SIGIR alone has employed between 135 and 160 people in both the United States and Iraq with a budget reaching $35 million. These organizations have conducted hundreds of investigations leading to millions of dollars of savings and numerous indictments and arrests.

And I have aggressively fought for and supported this oversight, including fighting to save and extend SIGIR when it was set to be shut down, working in a bipartisan manner with Sens. Joe Lieberman, I-Conn.; Susan Collins, R-Maine, and Russ Feingold, D-Wis. We saved it, we've strengthened it, and I'm proud of that fact.

As chairman of PSI, with my staff of six and a budget of $600,000, I chose to focus our resources on bolstering America's defenses against nuclear terrorism, protecting U.S. consumers from abusive business practices and fighting waste, fraud and abuse in government programs. I am proud of that record and proud of my record in fighting for aggressive Iraq oversight.

These are serious times that call for serious, temperate leaders you can trust. Minnesotans want their senator to look out for them, not lie to them. Franken sees the world through a bitter partisan lens. He cannot comprehend that on PSI, there is a long history of Republicans and Democrats working side by side to root out waste, fraud and abuse.

The facts speak for themselves.

Norm Coleman, R-Minn., is a member of the U.S. Senate.

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