Washington, D.C. - The U.S. Senate has passed legislation extending the window of time in which prosecutions can be brought against contractors who defraud the government during the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The amendment, cosponsored by U.S. Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), was included in a bill authorizing $612.5 billion in funding for the military for fiscal year 2009.
"Defrauding American taxpayers is unacceptable in all cases and outrageous when it comes to our troops in harm's way," said Whitehouse, a former Rhode Island U.S. Attorney and Attorney General who now serves on the Senate Judiciary Committee. "This amendment makes sure that the clock doesn't run out on prosecutions for waste, fraud, and abuse in wartime contracts."
Ongoing investigations into contracting work performed in Iraq and elsewhere have raised serious questions about fraud and abuse. In March 2008, the Defense Department's Inspector General testified his office was conducting 28 Iraq-related audits and inspections and 76 Iraq-related investigations. The DOD deputy inspector general, Andrew Hunter, testified last year that $88 billion in DOD contracts and programs are being investigated.
Under current law, legal claims to prosecute wartime contracting fraud must be brought within a three-year period. Current law provides for this statute of limitations to be suspended while hostilities continue, but only in instances in which Congress has issued a formal declaration of war.
The measure passed by the Senate yesterday would expand that rule to include cover situations in which Congress has not formally declared war, but has authorized the use of force, such as in the conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq, and would extend the applicable three-year statute of limitations to five years in all cases. It would also make clear that the "end of hostilities," which triggers the running of the statute, must be marked by an official act of the President or Congress.
Other provisions of the Defense Authorization Act include a pay raise for all military personnel, a $26 billion investment in health care for our troops, and a measure to repeal the "widow's tax," which affects spouses of deceased service members whose DOD Survivor Benefit Plan is offset as a result of their VA Dependency and Indemnity Compensation. The bill would also bar military contractors from conducting interrogations. Whitehouse cosponsored a related amendment to the FY09 Intelligence Authorization bill that would prohibit CIA contractors from being involved in interrogations.