The U.S. watchdog agency overseeing Afghanistan reconstruction has launched a formal probe into an ill-fated contract to build trash incinerators at a former U.S. base in Afghanistan. On Tuesday, the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) issued a letter announcing a preliminary investigation into the bungled construction of solid waste incinerators at Forward Operating Base Sharana in 2012.
As we blogged back in December, SIGAR discovered that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers paid contractor International Home Finance & Development LLC $5.4 million for incinerators that were delivered more than two years behind schedule and with numerous construction defects. SIGAR faulted the Army Corps of Engineers for not testing the incinerators before accepting them and failing to hold the contractor accountable for a poor job. The Sharana base was turned over to the Afghan government in October 2013; the incinerators, according to SIGAR, were ultimately dismantled and sold for scrap without ever being used.
After conducting its own inquiry, the Army Corps of Engineers determined that the contractor performed as required and that Corps contracting officers had acted appropriately. However, having given Army Corps of Engineers time to produce documentation supporting its version of events, SIGAR remains unsatisfied. SIGAR still has concerns about why International Home Finance & Development was paid in full and given a “satisfactory” performance rating despite providing an unfinished product more than two years late and in need of approximately $1 million in repairs.
Readers of this blog know that SIGAR has slammed the Army Corps of Engineers before for its lenient treatment of poorly performing contractors. In April 2013, SIGAR reported that $5 million waste incinerators at Forward Operating Base Salerno also sat idle because the Army Corps of Engineers released that contractor from its responsibility to provide a functioning, defect-free system. (“These incinerators didn’t burn trash—but they did burn up taxpayer money,” Special Inspector General John F. Sopko sardonically observed at the time.) SIGAR is also investigating the Army Corps of Engineers’ decision in 2011 to pay DynCorp International $71 million for its botched construction work on the Afghan National Army garrison at Camp Pamir.
It is heartening to see SIGAR doggedly pursue the Army Corps of Engineers on matters like the solid waste incinerators and the Afghan Army garrison construction. But the millions of dollars wasted on those projects is a comparative drop in the bucket when you consider that the total amount invested in Afghanistan’s rebuilding since 2001 is $100 billion and growing.