Auditors Warn State Department to Monitor $50M Afghan Training Project

An Afghan police officer stands guard at a checkpoint on a road leading to Narkh district on the outskirts of Maidan Shahr, Afghanistan An Afghan police officer stands guard at a checkpoint on a road leading to Narkh district on the outskirts of Maidan Shahr, Afghanistan Anja Niedringhaus/AP

Secretary of State John Kerry was warned on Monday that he should step up monitoring of vital judicial-sector training programs in warn-torn Afghanistan because a State Department bureau “may be scaling back its oversight of a program that is central to U.S. efforts to promote the rule of law in Afghanistan and which involves millions of dollars of taxpayer money.”

John Sopko, special inspector general for Afghanistan reconstruction, wrote in a letter released on Thursday of “serious deficiencies” in a contract for an Afghanistan Justice Training Transition Program that has been awarded on a sole-source basis to the International Development Law Organization and administered by State’s Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs. “This award does not appear to contain basic provisions that would allow INL to ensure proper monitoring and evaluation of a project expected to cost U.S. taxpayers nearly $50 million,” the IG wrote.

The International Development Law Organization is a 20-year-old, Rome-based intergovernmental organization that promotes the rule of law. The contract in question is part of a larger, 8-year-old Justice Sector Support Program designed to help Afghanistan become self-sufficient through regional training; implementing a Case Management System; and building the administrative capacity of the Afghan government’s justice sector ministries.

SIGAR auditors were “disturbed,” however, to learn that the bureau, in signing on the law organization for its largest such contract ever, had less-stringent oversight requirements than those imposed on a prior contractor, PAE Inc., which continues to be involved in related projects. An example of the deficiencies is lack of a requirement for line-by-line cost accounting, SIGAR said, adding that the contract is out of step with usual State Department policies on giving contracting officers a proper oversight role.

What’s more, SIGAR’s auditors said they are not receiving the cooperation they seek from the new contractor. “IDLO has refused to fully comply with SIGAR’s repeated requests for information regarding its budget, organizational structure, and financial relationship with the U.S. government. IDLO has also refused to provide complete copies of the materials it uses to help train Afghan justice-sector officials under its award from INL,” the auditors said. Such failures, the IG continued, raise "serious concerns” regarding the contractor’s commitment to “transparency and willingness to acknowledge the authority of the U.S. government to oversee how U.S. taxpayer funds are spent.”

Absent the cooperation and transparency the auditors seek, the letter said, the contract may require renegotiating.

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