The Defense Department’s now-defunct business task force for rebuilding war-torn Afghanistan has again been found to have ineffectively spent its budget, devoting more than half of $675 million in contract obligations to indirect or support costs and favoring sole-source providers, a watchdog found.
The Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction on Tuesday released its latest critique of the Pentagon’s Task Force for Business and Stability Operations, which worked from 2010-2014 to hire companies to help the Afghans with economic development in such areas as mining, irrigation and banking.
That body was disbanded in 2015, with many of its projects incomplete or turned over to the State Department and the U.S. Agency for International Development.
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The new IG findings show that “from the start, [the task force’s] goals were at odds with its capabilities, and its role within the U.S. reconstruction effort was unclear.” The unit’s documentation of goals and progress was often lax, and “DoD was unable to provide reliable data showing the extent to which TFBSO projects created jobs, facilitated foreign direct investments, increased exports, or increased Afghan government revenues,” SIGAR found.
Of more than $675 million the unit obligated to contracts, less than half was spent “directly on projects” in Afghanistan, going instead to support services. Only 22 percent of the $316.3 million obligated on contracts for direct support “fully met their deliverables,” the report showed. As many as 43 of the 89 contracts reviewed, together worth $201 million, “used limited competition and sole-source contracting, increasing the government’s risk of waste,” auditors noted. Seven contracts worth $35.1 million were awarded to firms employing former TFBSO staff as senior executives.
The Pentagon’s unit had “unrealistic expectations” about Afghanistan’s politics, culture, weather and dangers, and “did not have the time, resident expertise, or outside support it needed to do everything it set out to do,” SIGAR wrote.
Its managers were also unable to hold contractors accountable for poor performance.
“The findings of this audit are just another example of the Defense Department’s failure to get its financial house in order,” said Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, who requested the audit with then-Sen. Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H. “I applaud Special Inspector General auditors for their detailed work. Unfortunately, this audit is just one more example of the breakdown of internal controls that helps explain why the Defense Department can’t earn a clean opinion of its annual financial audits. The department must provide accountability for its programs and personnel agency-wide and put an end to this indefensible waste and abuse of the public trust.”
SIGAR quoted a Pentagon official testifying to the Senate Armed Services Committee in 2016 expressing doubts about the military agency’s ability to promote economic development during a contingency (combat) operation: Said Defense undersecretary for policy Brian McKeon, “I personally am skeptical that the Department of Defense is a natural home for that mission.”