New Report Slams Contract Oversight in Afghanistan

On Tuesday, the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) released its twentieth Quarterly Report to Congress summarizing its investigations and providing an overview of U.S.-funded reconstruction activities in Afghanistan. SIGAR listed several accomplishments this quarter:

  • Questioning more than $2 billion in spending and costs
  • Two arrests, two indictments, two court-martial convictions, and two guilty pleas resulting from SIGAR investigations
  • Saving taxpayers approximately $800,000 as a result of SIGAR’s investigation of fuel theft

These highlights, however, are overshadowed by the bad news. SIGAR has once again found “serious shortcomings in U.S. oversight of contracts,” including “a pervasive lack of accountability.” Since a large percentage of the approximately $20 billion in remaining reconstruction funding will be spent on contracts, SIGAR’s findings and recommendations should be taken very seriously.

The report provides several examples of the massive waste and deficient oversight SIGAR found this quarter. There is a recap of SIGAR’s inspection of a teachers college in Sheberghan. As we blogged two weeks ago when SIGAR released the results of its inspection, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers paid contractors more than $3 million for an unfinished building that is chock-full of potential health and safety hazards.

According to SIGAR, the fundamental problem with contract oversight is “people’s failure to do what they are supposed to be doing.” Whether it is inspecting contractors’ work, demanding corrections, confirming that performance is complete before closing out contracts, or keeping proper records, SIGAR found that contracting officials in Afghanistan are “simply not doing their jobs or not doing them properly.” Even worse, offenders are not being held accountable.

Speaking of accountability, we were surprised—and disappointed—to learn that the Army refused to take action with regard to dozens of contractors accused of supporting the insurgency in Afghanistan. In his introduction to the quarterly report, Special Inspector General John Sopko revealed that all 43 cases SIGAR referred for suspension or debarment because the company or individual was identified as an active supporter of the Taliban, the Haqqani network, or al-Qaeda, were rejected by the Army. In January, the Army claimed SIGAR had not provided enough evidence to support debarment (although, as we pointed out, the Army didn’t say whether the evidence would at least support suspension, which has a lower burden of proof), although it promised to continue working with SIGAR on these cases.

“I am deeply troubled that the U.S. military can pursue, attack, and even kill terrorists and their supporters, but that some in the U.S. government believe we cannot prevent these same people from receiving a government contract,” Sopko wrote.

To ensure the government can move swiftly to exclude contractors linked to terrorism, SIGAR requested independent suspension and debarment authority from the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) in November 2011. As far as we know, OMB has not yet taken action on SIGAR’s request.