Under pressure, the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction, Maj. Gen. Arnold Fields (Ret.), came to the White House today and resigned.
Fields delivered the message to Special Assistant to the President for Afghanistan and Pakistan Doug Lute.
“He told us that since the administration is transitioning to a new phase in Afghanistan, he thought it was a good time to step down,” a White House source said, insisting Fields was not forced out.
Last fall, a bipartisan group of senators -– calling the Special Inspector General’s office a “failing organization” –- called for President Obama to fire Fields and replace him “with an individual who will oversee the significant organizational change needed within the SIGAR to provide adequate oversight of the billions of dollars of spending on reconstruction in Afghanistan.”
The office is responsible for monitoring the $56 billion sent to Afghanistan since 2002 for humanitarian and non-military development programs.
“It has been clear for several months that SIGAR’s mission is not being served effectively,” wrote Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., Susan Collins, R-Maine, Tom Coburn, R-Okla., and Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa. “It is for this reason that we have concluded that SIGAR would be better served with new leadership.”
The senators said they were “disappointed” by the Obama administration’s “ongoing failure to take decisive action to make changes at SIGAR.”
Fields was appointed by President Bush in June 2008. The White House today credited Fields’ team with helping to “lead the effort to provide comprehensive and independent oversight of fiscal initiatives in Afghanistan. … 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.”
As Government Executive’s Robert Brodsky reported around that time, questions about Fields first were first in March 2009, when McCaskill, Coburn and Collins expressed concern to the president about SIGAR being understaffed.
In July 2009, Fields was criticized for awarding a sole-source contract to a law firm run by the former Pentagon inspector general.
"The decision to pay Mr. Schmitz to assist in correcting SIGAR's own failures raises serious questions regarding Mr. Fields' judgment," wrote the senators.
At a hearing in November, the three-star general said he built the organization up from nothing to 123 people.
“My leadership has been referred to as inept,” Fields said at the time. “That’s the first time.”
Said McCaskill this evening: “Mr. Fields simply was not the right person for this very difficult job. I hope that his departure will allow the agency to turn over a new leaf and finally begin to do the important contracting oversight work we so desperately need.”