STEVE INSKEEP, Host:
Here's NPR's Tom Bowman.
TOM BOWMAN: The numbers are staggering. The price tag for private contractors in Iraq and Afghanistan during the past decade is about $206 billion. And how much has been lost?
MICHAEL THIBAULT: We estimate that 31 to $60 billion has been or is being lost to waste and fraud.
BOWMAN: The number of private contractors in those countries last year topped 260,000, mostly foreign workers. That means more contractors than all U.S. military personnel in the war zones.
CHRISTOPHER SHAYS: We were not prepared to use contractors, and we are still not adequately prepared to use contractors to the scale required.
BOWMAN: Here's Dov Zakheim, a former Pentagon official who served on the commission.
DOV ZAKHEIM: What is the point of spending hundreds of millions of dollars on projects that will then fall into disuse?
BOWMAN: That makes sense to Jack Williams. He's a professor at Georgia State University College of Law and has worked with the government on corruption issues.
JACK WILLIAMS: That's the way to handle this problem. You're not going to eradicate fraud, waste and abuse. But what you can do is you can create a structure that monitors it. And so they're keeping an eye both on the work and on the money.
BOWMAN: Back during the Vietnam War, there were about 18,000 employees at the U.S. Agency for International Development working on overseas reconstruction projects. Today, there are about 3,000, says Richard Fontaine of the Center for a New American Security.
RICHARD FONTAINE: USAID has become, unfortunately, I think, largely a contract management agency, where it used to do many things directly.
BOWMAN: The commission wants more federal reconstruction workers heading overseas once again, instead of contractors. Christopher Shays, the commission co-chair, acknowledged that might be a tough sell in Washington these days.
SHAYS: The current stress on the budget may discourage members of Congress from supporting the investments that some of our recommendations would require.
BOWMAN: Tom Bowman, NPR News, Washington.
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INSKEEP: This is NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.