The Department of Defense (DoD) continues taking heavy fire over spending $43 million to build a gas station in Afghanistan that should have cost about 100 times less. One month after exposing this boondoggle, the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) has raised new allegations of waste at the now-defunct DoD office that oversaw the project—the Task Force for Business and Stability Operations.
Last week, Special Inspector General John Sopko sent a letter to Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter requesting information about the Task Force’s decision to spend nearly $150 million—20 percent of its budget—between 2009 and 2014 to rent luxurious private villas around Afghanistan.
SIGAR’s preliminary findings are alarming. The IG estimates that the government could have saved tens of millions of dollars if Task Force personnel had instead lived at DoD facilities or the U.S. Embassy. SIGAR also surmises that while living in private enclaves enabled the Task Force to move around the country and conduct its business more freely, it also might have diminished its effectiveness by hindering coordination with other agencies.
The $150 million was spent on world-class accommodations for contractors, visitors, and between 5 and 10 Task Force staff. Almost all of the money was awarded to three contractors—Triple Canopy ($57 million), Defense Group Incorporated ($51 million), and Muscogee Nation Business Enterprise ($40 million)—to provide an array of creature comforts.
Triple Canopy, for example, stocked the villas with queen-sized beds, flat screen TVs, and DVD players.
So far, DoD has ignored all of SIGAR’s inquiries about the Task Force, which shut down in March. SIGAR currently has several ongoing criminal investigations related to the Task Force.
The Senate has also jumped into the fray and is demanding answers. Senator Chuck Grassley (R-IA) requested records related to the Task Force’s operations and plans to seek a DoD Inspector General audit. Last week, Grassley wrote to Secretary Carter about Army Colonel John Hope, who led the Task Force during its final months. Hope claims he has been singled out for retaliation for speaking out about the lack of accountability at the Task Force.
During its nine-year existence, the Task Force spent hundreds of millions of dollars on economic development projects in Iraq and Afghanistan. We look forward to these investigations shining additional light on how this program operated, what it achieved, and how this money was spent.