Senate Probing Possible Reprisal Against DoD Task Force Whistleblower

The Pentagon office responsible for building the $43 million gas station in Afghanistan is in the news again, this time over allegations that its former chief is the victim of whistleblower retaliation.

On Monday, Senator Chuck Grassley (R-IA) alerted Defense Secretary Ashton Carter that Army Col. John C. Hope claims he is being punished for raising concerns about the Task Force for Business and Stability Operations, which oversaw the gas station project. Hope was the last director of the Task Force, which shut down in March of this year.

Hope alleges he has been singled out for retaliation and retribution for “speaking truth” about “a lack of accountability” at the Task Force, according to Sen. Grassley’s letter. Hope claims that, as a result of blowing the whistle, his job evaluation has been delayed for eight months, which puts his next assignment—and his career—in jeopardy.

The Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) ignited a firestorm earlier this month when it reported that the gas station should have cost less than $500,000 and probably should not have been built at all. SIGAR has been unable to pry information about the gas station and other Task Force projects out of the Pentagon. One of Hope’s superiors allegedly slow-rolling Hope’s job evaluation is Principal Deputy Under Secretary of Defense Brian P. McKeon, who told SIGAR that his office currently lacks the personnel and expertise to answer any questions about the Task Force. Luckily, the Senate has jumped into the fray and is also demanding answers.

Grassley has requested records related to the Task Force since it began operations in Afghanistan in 2009, including all records pertaining to SIGAR’s requests for information. Grassley also plans to seek a Department of Defense Inspector General audit.

The Task Force was created in 2006 to help revive Iraq’s economy by encouraging foreign corporate investment. In 2009, it shifted focus to Afghanistan, where, according to SIGAR, it has obligated approximately $766 million for economic development projects like the gas station. Bloomberg reported in 2011 that the Task Force had a 75-person staff and a $150 million annual budget.

SIGAR began investigating the Task Force last year after receiving allegations of improprieties. In December, Special Inspector General John F. Sopko notified former Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel of possible “imprudent spending, profligate travel by employees and contractors, and possible mismanagement.”