The weekly watchdog: Aug. 29 - Sept. 2

This week's top investigations from iWatch News

By

 Updated:

From left (clockwise): President Obama tours Solyndra headquarters, Texas Gov. Rick Perry, a malnourished child living in a Somalian refugee camp, an ATF agent and damage at the Pentagon in the days following the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

All AP images: Paul Chinn, Charles Dharapak, Farah Abdi Warsameh, Nick Ut, Tech. Sgt. Cedric H. Rudisill

Obama-backed Solar Firm Collapses

This arrangement has been troubling for some time. Solyndra Inc., a renewable energy firm that became a darling of the Obama Administration, shut the doors of its California headquarters Wednesday, raising fresh questions from critics about political favoritism and wasted money in the federal loan program. The manufacturer of rooftop solar panels opened its doors in 2005, and in 2009 became the first recipient of an Obama administration energy loan guarantee – a $535 million federal commitment that helped minimize the risk to venture capital firms backing the solar start-up. Obama visited the factory last year to herald its future.

A Dubious Decade of No-Bid Military Contracts

Expediency seldom comes cheap. The level of competition for U.S. military contracts has plunged during a decade of war in Iraq and Afghanistan, according to a new, five-part investigation by iWatch News. The result: wasted dollars, lower quality goods and services, and in some cases, outright fraud. Publicly available data show that Defense Department dollars flowing into no-bid contracts have almost tripled since the terrorist attacks of 9/11. As well, the value of Pentagon contracts awarded without competition topped $140 billion in 2010, up from $50 billion in 2001. On Monday, the bipartisan Commission on Wartime Contracting reported the Pentagon has squandered more than $30 billion in taxpayer money on the conflicts, much of it through no-bid deals. The largest war contractor, of course, as originally reported by the Center, is KBR (formerly a subsidiary of Halliburton) with some $37 billion in contracts.

A Thousand Bundlers Line Up Behind Gov. Perry

The Center is closely tracking the millions of dollars flowing to the 2012 presidential candidates. This week, iWatch News’ Peter H. Stone reported that Texas Gov. Rick Perry’s campaign now counts as many as 1,000 bundlers, many of whom will bring in between $50,000 and $500,000. President Obama had 271 bundlers as of June. In related news, we also reported that Newt Gingrich’s money train has derailed. His 527 group, American Solutions for Winning the Future, closed its doors in early July after raising $52 million in four years for the former House speaker. Gingrich’s presidential ambitions stalled in June when key campaign staff walked out.

Heads Roll on ATF Gun Scandal

Here’s impact. On Tuesday, Acting ATF Director Kenneth Melson was reassigned to a back-office job at the Department of Justice and Arizona U.S. Attorney Dennis Burke resigned. Both were in positions of responsibility when the ATF ran its controversial Fast and Furious program that allowed almost 2,000 American guns to cross the border into the hands of Mexican drug cartels. ATF hoped the strategy would allow it to target higher-level cartel operatives. Two AK-47 variants bought by straw buyers in the U.S. turned up at the murder scene of border patrol agent Brian Terry last December. iWatch News first reported on the story in March.

Corruption Hinders Aid to Starving Somalis

As the famine in southern Somalia worsens, aid experts fear that corruption and the politics of terrorism are limiting the flow of humanitarian relief to areas hardest hit. Our report by Malik Siraj Akbar shows U.S. aid targeted for the Horn of Africa can’t reach starving people in southern Somalia because it’s blocked by Al-Shabaab, an Al-Qaeda-aligned Islamist group. Help is also being trucked into Somalia via United Nations and non-aligned humanitarian programs – but much of the foodstuffs and other material are siphoned off by theft and corruption by officials in the country’s nominal government. And so a terrible situation grows worse.

Until next week,

Bill Buzenberg
Executive Director

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