Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction retired Gen. Arnie Fields submitted his resignation Monday, ending over a year of congressional complaints about his performance in overseeing tens of billions of dollars of U.S. taxpayer reconstruction funding in Afghanistan.
In a statement issued by the press secretary's office, the White House praised Fields' tenure and avoided mentioning any of the criticisms leveled by senior senators, including Claire McCaskill (D-MO), Tom Coburn (R-OK), and Susan Collins (R-ME).
"Under General Fields' tenure, SIGAR produced numerous critical reports that have improved reconstruction efforts, and helped insure that U.S.-funded programs are achieving their objectives," the White House said. "General Fields' hard work and steadfast determination have established SIGAR as a critical oversight agency... As he moves on to new challenges, he can do so confident in the knowledge that the President and the American people owe him a debt of gratitude for his courage, leadership, and selfless service to our nation."
The resignation on Monday came as a surprise to watchers around Washington, including those on Capitol Hill who had been working on his ouster, according to multiple senate aides who had been following the ordeal. Following a meeting White House staff in mid December, McCaskill told The Cable that she couldn't get any firm answers from the White House on what they planned to do about Fields.
Fields had come under heavy criticism for his leadership of an oversight office that is failing to effectively monitor the allocation of billions of dollars in U.S. taxpayer funds that are being invested in infrastructure in Afghanistan. Fields was criticized for running an office that failed to recover significant amounts of funds lost due to waste, fraud, and abuse. The work product from SIGAR, which included investigations and audits, was seen as incomplete and often off target by Congressional overseers. A memo circulated by Hill staffers earlier this year outlined the shortcomings of several of the organization's audits.
In her capacity as chairwoman of the Homeland Security and Government Affairs subcommittee on Contracting Oversight, McCaskill called Fields to testify on Nov. 18, where she pointed out that the taxpayers have given $46.2 million to the SIGAR office, but their investigations have only resulted in collections of $8.2 million.
Last July, the Council of Inspectors General on Integrity and Efficiency (CIGIE), which is meant to oversee the overseers, issued a scathing report on SIGAR, which only fueled the fire of lawmakers calling for Fields' removal.
Last week, Fields fired two of his top deputies in an apparent bid to get out ahead of the many criticisms of his leadership at SIGAR, but the move proved not to be enough to save his job. There's no word yet on his possible replacement.
"They better put a rock star in there to replace him, because we are going to keep on watching this one closely," a senior Senate aide close to the issue told The Cable.
The United States has committed $51 billion to Afghanistan reconstruction since 2001; that endowment will reach $71 billion by the end of 2011, according to the AP.