After six years of inspection reports, the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) has a decidedly mixed review of U.S. Defense Department reconstruction projects in Afghanistan.
In testimony delivered to the US House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, SIGAR John Sopko commented that although his organization’s reports cover only a fraction of the Pentagon’s reconstruction projects.
A new review of 36 inspection reports by the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) covering 44 reconstruction projects with a combined value of $1.1 billion found serious problem in a majority cases.
Sixty-three percent of the projects failed to meet the requirements of the contract or technical specifications, 36 percent were structurally unsound or hazardous to the occupants, and a roughly a quarter were delayed, including one more than two and half years behind schedule.
Many contractors who performed shoddy work were still paid the full contract amount. Roughly one-third of completed projects are still vacant, and contractors usually received full payment for poorly built and late projects.
But continued corruption, political instability and a lack of resources in Afghanistan mean the Afghan government isn’t able to operate the facilities independently, and American taxpayers are on the hook until they can.
“Currently, it is unclear when the Afghan government will be able to take over this responsibility,” Sopko said in statements prepared for a hearing on DOD Afghanistan construction projects before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee. “Until it is able to do so, U.S. taxpayer funds will continue to be expended to sustain the facilities DOD has built for the Afghans.”
It remains unclear how, or even if, the Afghan government and its national security forces will be able to take responsibility for the facilities the U.S. is paying for. Until then, the SIGAR office warns, American taxpayers will have to continue paying for the Defense Department projects.
Bathkhak School in Kabul province, for example, “had such serious design and construction flaws” that inspectors urged a delay in transferring the school to the Afghan government.
Inspectors found “collapsible soil due to poor compaction; improperly installed heating and cooling systems; inoperable water systems; inadequate testing of mechanical systems; electrical wiring that was not up to code; use of substandard building materials; poorly mixed, cured, and reinforced concrete; and improperly installed roofs.”
Despite these reports, the inspector general is optimistic about the future and points to two signs that the situation on the ground may change: The Defense Department has implemented almost 80 percent of the recommendations the agency has made, and the government in Afghanistan under the leadership of President Ashraf Ghani has pledged to fight corruption – an endemic issue across all federal offices and ranks considered the key contributor to the government’s woes.