LESSONS LEARNED: Controlling Wasteful Spending in Iraq, Afghanistan
Catching White Elephants
By now you’ve probably heard or read about the $34 million military headquarters building at Camp Leatherneck in southern Afghanistan that probably won’t ever be used by U.S. troops.
But maintaining the 64,000-square foot, air conditioned windowless building – equipped with modern office space, work stations and an auditorium — is probably too expensive for the Afghans to handle so the brand new building may be demolished by departing U.S. forces.
But wait, there’s more. Less than four months after the Army asked Congress to fund the huge command center, the local Marine Corps commander said it wasn’t needed and made a request – in May 2010 – to cancel the project. In February 2011, however, the Air Force issued a construction contract to build the facility, which Uncle Sam took possession of in November 2012, according to the Office of the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR). SIGAR is a government agency created by Congress to prevent and detect waste, fraud and abuse in Afghanistan reconstruction programs.
“Based on these preliminary findings, I am deeply troubled that the military may have spent taxpayer funds on a construction project that should have been stopped,” Special Inspector General John Sopko, wrote in a letter to Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel; the commander of U.S. Central Command – which includes Afghanistan; and the top U.S. military commander in Afghanistan.
Sopko said he was also troubled by the options of either “destroying a never-occupied, never-used building or turning over what may be a ‘white elephant’ to the Afghan government that it may not have the capacity to sustain.” You can read his letter here.
Meanwhile, another special inspector general for reconstruction – this time in Iraq – has a recommendation to avoid future money-wasting boondoggles. In testimony before a House Foreign Affairs subcommittee on Tuesday (July 9) Stuart Bowen Jr., urged creation of a U.S. Office for Contingency Operations (USOCO) to concentrate authority over relief and reconstruction efforts into a single office that would report to both the secretaries of Defense and State – as well as the president’s National Security Advisor.
Now there is no executive branch department with the primary responsibility for carrying out relief and reconstruction activities, Bowen said, noting that Congress has appropriated $60 billion for Iraq’s reconstruction over the last 10 years and his office has recovered more than $200 million through waste and fraud investigations. Instead of a single office, the stabilization operations are just add-ons to the work already being done by the departments of State, Defense, Justice and Treasury, as well as the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID).
“Current geopolitical events make the need for a reform like USOCO quite compelling,” Bowen said in written testimony for the Middle East and North Africa subcommittee, adding “a number of fragile states, including Syria, could soon require integrated stabilization and reconstruction assistance.”
A bill that would create USOCO and assure that the government is preparing for the next stabilization and reconstruction operation ahead of time has been introduced in the House by Rep. Steve Stockman (R-Texas).
Entry filed under: Afghanistan, Iraq, Lessons Learned, National Security and Defense, News Developments, Washington. Tags: Afghanistan, Air Force, Army, Defense, Iraq, Marine Corps, SIGAR, SIGIR, soft power.