Inspector general's report confirms McCaskill warnings on Afghanistan
WASHINGTON — In her Senate subcommittee on government contracting, Sen. Claire McCaskill has criticized the U.S. government for spending hundreds of millions of dollars to build roads, bridges and power plants in Afghanistan.
McCaskill, D-Mo., who chairs the panel, has grilled Pentagon and State Department officials about a lack of accountability and questioned the rationale for building expensive projects unlikely to be finished until the United States has withdrawn its forces.
Last year, she successfully pressed to replace the U.S. official who, she alleged, had done a poor job in ferreting out corruption in Afghanistan contracts.
This morning, a report by the special inspector general for Afghanistan reconstruction confirmed many of McCaskill's suspicions, pointing to U.S.-funded projects in Afghanistan that are wasteful, shoddy and behind schedule.
The report raised questions about a strategy of modernizing Afghanistan in the belief that providing basics like electricity and roads in the largely rural country would help defeat the Taliban. It went so far as to say that spending may be counterproductive by raising expectations for improvements that can't be sustained when American forces depart.
"A significant portion of the U.S. government’s $400 million investment in large-scale infrastructure projects in fiscal year 2011 may be wasted due to due to weaknesses in planning coordination and execution, raising sustainability concerns and risking adverse counter-insurgency effects," the report said.
In an interview, McCaskill said she was heartened by the focus on issues she has sought to publicize. She said she planned to proceed with legislation that would transfer up to $1.4 billion allocated for reconstruction in Afghan to the road and bridge fund in the U.S.
"Why waste this money investing in these things if we don't have confidence that they are going to be able to be sustained when we are no longer there with our contractors, our leadership and our tax dollars? That's what drives me crazy about this," she said.
She recalled questioning Gen. David Petraeus, who led American forces in Afghanistan before becoming director of the CIA, about the Commander's Emergency Response Program — in which $3.4 billion has been spent, according to the report.
"The way it was explained to me was that it allows a commander on the ground to fix a broken plate glass window in a storefront without having to go through a lot of red tape. Now, we're building $300 million power plants and huge highway systems," she said.
The inspector general for Afghanistan was set up by Congress in 2008 to advise the government on waste, fraud and other problems. The quarterly report calculated that the United States thus far has appropriated more than $89 billion for relief and reconstruction in Afghanistan, more than half of that spent on security.
Referring to security along the country's eastern border, the report noted that investigators who visited three police bases found "the lack of a viable water supply, a poorly constructed septic system and inadequate sewage. Other deficiencies included leaking fuel lines, unconnected drain pipes, poorly built guard towers, and improperly installed heating and ventilation systems."
The report focused on a two-year-old program called the Afghan Infrastructure Fund, a $1.8 billion pot of U.S. money for building large infrastructure projects.
In one of the projects, diesel generators are being used to provide electricity in Kandahar, the nation's second biggest city, until completion of a hydropower turbine in a neighboring province. The diesel fuel alone will cost the U.S. government more than $200 million through next year.
But the report noted that the hydropower project will produce substantially less power than the generators, meaning that Kandahar will have less power unless the government can find a way to supply diesel fuel for the generators.
McCaskill said: "It's like the right hand doesn't know what the left hand is doing. Why would we create an expectation that all these people are getting electricity courtesy of the United States Government when, at the point in time we leave and the country is most vulnerable, we're going to have to say, you know, we're going to have to turn some of your lights out."