The Senate’s nine freshman Democrats announced a new effort Wednesday to rein in the use of private contractors to rebuild Iraq and to do an array of war-related jobs normally assigned to the military, The Virginian-Pilot reported Thursday.

According to the report, the group will ask Congress to create a “Commission on Wartime Contracting” that would assign auditors already employed by the federal government to ferret out waste and mismanagement in the more than $300 billion Iraq reconstruction effort.

A special inspector general on Iraq reconstruction reported two years ago that $9 billion of $32 billion spent by the State Department on Iraq reconstruction “could not be accounted for,” Jim Webb, D-Va., is reported as saying. “I think we all deserve better than that.”

The panel also would explore legal questions surrounding the use of contractors to do such jobs as interrogate prisoners and provide security for top U.S. generals, Webb is reported as saying.

Webb acknowledged that the proposal faces an uncertain future, the Virginian-Pilot reported. It was drafted as an amendment to a $629 billion spending bill that was pulled from the Senate floor on Wednesday as lawmakers deadlocked over proposals to dictate a change in President Bush’s strategy in Iraq.

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