- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 8, 2015

A complex built for the Afghan National Army by their American counterparts has turned into a money pit for U.S. taxpayers.

According to a report by the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR), the United States has shelled out more than $7.2 million to construct a defective power plant and wasted another $1.3 million building two gas stations that have never been used.

In 2009 the Department of Defense agreed to spend $57.1 million over 5 years building Camp Commando in Kabul, Afghanistan. The complex is intended to house a specials operations headquarters, troop training facilities, military intelligence capabilities and personnel support services.

SIGAR inspectors determined that, even though only two of the four phases of the construction project are complete, Camp Commando is already $3.6 million over budget and mired in missteps.

A primary component of the early stages of Camp Commando construction was the erection of a $7 million power plant to provide electricity to the complex.

By February 2013 the Army Corps of Engineers promised that the power plant was complete, fully operational and performing with no issues. In a site visit 16 months later, however, inspectors discovered that the power plant was plagued with myriad problems. The power plant’s master control panel and switchgear were not functioning properly, and software for synchronizing the generators did not perform correctly.

“As a result,” the SIGAR report determined, “only one of the four primary generators could operate at a time. Further, changing power from one generator to another could not be completed without interruption. Also, since the power changeover could not be done electronically, as required, it had to be completed manually.”

For failing to serve as good stewards of public funds, overseeing shoddy work by contractors being paid by American taxpayers and misleading federal officials about the project, the Army Corps of Engineers has earned this week’s Golden Hammer. The award is presented by The Washington Times to highlight particularly contemptible examples of wasted tax dollars.

The issues left the Camp Commando complex with only 25 percent of the planned total power output available and plagued by interruptions in electrical service.

Troops were forced to rely on temporary portable generators — often malfunctioning from age and wear — in order to power the security system vital to protecting the garrison from attacks.

In a letter to SIGAR, Colonel Richard Heitkamp, who serves as the Chief of Staff of the Transatlantic Division of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, blamed issues related to the power plant on contractors operating the power plant prior to the inspectors’ arrival.

Mr. Heitkamp also wrote that “documentation on the power plant testing and commissioning was lost, likely due to electronic data storage failure.”

Repairing the nearly new power plant so it could function properly required the better part of six months and cost $243,000, not including the price tag of an additional generator made necessary as a result of the upgrades.

In addition to signing off on the faulty power plant, the Army Corps of Engineers also claimed that a fuel point — an on-site filling station — had been tested and was in use in early 2013. During two separate visits to Camp Commando in 2014, inspectors determined that the fuel pumps at the station “were not operating and had not been tested and commissioned.”

Mr. Heitkamp noted that “testing and commissioning took place,” but the Corps of Engineers “is unable to locate records documenting the precise dates of testing and commissioning either the electrical system or the fuel point dispensers.”

Even though the gas station cost American taxpayers $332,000 to construct, inspectors later determined “the pumps at the fuel point had never been used to fuel vehicles.”

The total abandonment of the fuel point did not prevent contractors from building a second fuel point nearby that was larger and, with a price tag of over $1 million, even more expensive. The second fueling station had been completed but, as of October 2014, had also never been used to refill a single vehicle.

“User error and lingering construction deficiencies have resulted in the underutilization of the facilities constructed as part [of] Camp Commando,” SIGAR officials noted in the report.

Inspectors criticized both the Afghan National Army and the Army Corps of Engineers because “the $7 million plant was delayed in delivering full power for nearly 2 years until repair work was completed,” and “the fuel point does not fully serve its purpose.”

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