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May 21, 2010

WASHINGTON, D.C. - U.S. Senator Claire McCaskill, chair of the Subcommittee on Contracting Oversight, took the Departments of State and Defense to task Thursday for their failure to produce meaningful documentation for billions of dollars in contracts for international counternarcotics activities in Latin America. In the first significant Congressional oversight efforts on this large but little-known area of government contracting, McCaskill sought to learn more about the work and performance of contractors but was left without basic information about the contracts awarded for fighting drug production south of the U.S. border.

"We asked for this information from the State Department and the Defense Department more than three months ago. Despite our repeated requests, neither Department has been able to answer our questions yet," McCaskill said at the hearing Thursday.

McCaskill continued: "I do not want to use subpoenas. This should be a cooperative exercise, but I will not hesitate, and I know my ranking member feels the same way. I will not hesitate to use subpoenas because this is important - it is billions and billions of dollars. We need to get to a point where the appropriators say ‘no more money until you are at least capable of showing us how you have spent what you've got.'"

Watch video of Claire questioning witnesses at the hearing

The State Department and Department of Defense officials share responsibility for the counternarcotics activities, including contracts to assist foreign governments in Latin America with the training of local police forces and destroying fields of coca plants used to produce cocaine. Since the mid-1970s, the federal government has increased counternarcotics assistance. Today the operation is worth billions of dollars worth of contracts for private companies.

At the hearing, McCaskill asked both witnesses from the State and Defense Departments basic questions about the government's contracting activities in Latin America. Overall, the witnesses' answers fell short of complete, although they did referenced some information that the subcommittee had requested but had not been provided with prior to the hearing, furthering frustrating McCaskill.

"If I had had that information before this hearing, I could have done a much better job drilling down on contracting oversight today than I was able to do because of a lack of data. I suggest we try this one more time . . . . You give us input as to how quickly you can get us the kind of data that both of you are smart enough to know we need to do adequate contract oversight, and let's go from there. We're going to try one more time, and if we are still frustrated at the end of this process, we will issue subpoenas."

McCaskill ended the hearing by reminding the witnesses that the Subcommittee will not hesitate to pursue this issue further, saying simply, "We're not going to go away."



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