Afghanistan Audits Reveal Billions in U.S. Taxpayer Waste

As the U.S. prepares to withdraw troops from Afghanistan, the government watchdog charged with overseeing nearly $100 billion in contracts to reconstruct the country has found almost $2 billion in potential waste, fraud and abuse in the last three months alone — some of which has likely led to the deaths of American servicemen and women, according to the agency’s reports.

The string of alleged violations includes phantom projects, improperly awarded contracts, aborted projects, deserted construction, a general lack of transparency to comprehensively oversee projects and, in one instance, building a $34 million military facility that will never be used.

In a letter to Secretary of State John Kerry released Thursday, Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) John F. Sopko wrote that he found “serious deficiencies” in awarding a $50 million contract for the training of Afghan justice workers that violated the department’s own policies. According to Sopko, the gigantic contract was awarded without competition and lacked the transparency to see how the funds were allocated.

“The irony here is that State violated its own written policy and gave them a huge check to teach the Afghans about the ‘rule of law.’ As the saying goes, you can’t make this up,” Sopko said in a statement.

Also this week, SIGAR reported that the Department of Defense awarded $32 million in contracts for thousands of anti-IED systems, called culvert denial systems, but that hundred were improperly installed or not installed at all. Thus far, two Afghan contractors have been charged with fraud and negligent homicide, although Sopko acknowledges that U.S. personnel may also be responsible.

“This case shows so clearly that fraud can kill in Afghanistan,” said Sopko in a statement. “We will find out if contracting officers did not do their job and if that proves to be true and Americans have died, we will hold those individuals responsible.”

Earlier this month, SIGAR reported that a $34 million command headquarters built in Helmand Province for the U.S. military will go unoccupied. Despite warnings from military commanders that they had decided three years ago the 64,000 square foot building wasn’t needed, the contractors continued with the development well into 2013.

In July 8 letter to Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel, Sopko said it was “the best constructed building I have seen in my travels to Afghanistan.”

“Unfortunately, it is unused, unoccupied, and presumably will never be used for its intended purpose,” wrote Sopko. “This is an example of what is wrong with military construction in general—once a project is started, it is very difficult to stop.”

Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.), Chairman of the Subcommittee on Financial and Contracting Oversight, addressed the issue in a July 16 hearing, calling the unused facility an “embarrassment.”

“How in the world did this thing get built when people on the ground were saying ‘stop, stop, stop, don’t do this—we don’t need it and it won’t be used,” asked McCaskill.

Richard Ginman, the Director for Defense Procurement and Acquisition Policy, didn’t have an answer, saying, “It’s very difficult to sit here and say, as it’s been reported, that we now have a building that we do not know how it will be disposed of.”