- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 9, 2018

The Pentagon task force overseeing millions in U.S.-funded reconstruction dollars for Afghanistan was plagued by organizational shortfalls, inadequate or non-existent records of ongoing projects and an overall lack of strategy that led to the waste of millions in American taxpayer funds on failed projects, a key government watchdog group claims.

In its new review of the task force released Tuesday, officials from the Office of the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstuction (SIGAR), the Pentagon-sponsored organization suffered from the “lack of a clear mission and strategy, as well as a poor coordination, planning, contracting, and oversight led to waste and conflicts with other U.S. agencies operating in Afghanistan.”

With a congressionally-appropriated budget of $823 million, over $300 million was spent “on indirect and support costs, not directly on projects in Afghanistan,” SIGAR investigators found. The organization was plagued from the start, with the task force’s “goals were at odds with its capabilities, and its role within the U.S. reconstruction effort was unclear,” the report states. The problems compounded from there.

Yet Pentagon officials were unable “to provide reliable data showing the extent to which [task force] projects created jobs, facilitated foreign direct investments, increased exports, or increased Afghan government revenues,” investigators found.

The task force had set aside $316.3 million on “obligated contracts” in direct support of ongoing reconstruction efforts in Afghanistan. Of those dollars only $70 million fully met the terms of the contracts. The remaining funds “either partially met or failed to meet their deliverables,” the report states.

The task force’s ability to execute reconstruction contracts was not the only shortfall, investigators found. In their report, SIGAR found that 43 of 89 contracted reviewed by the office “used limited competition and sole-source contracting, increasing the government’s risk of waste.” In one case, investigators found the task force awarded seven separate contracts — worth a total of $35.1 million — to reconstruction firms whose senior staff were also task force members.

Such oversights were further facilitated by the task force’s lackluster records keeping process. Task force leaders “did not document organizational priorities, such as its objectives, mission, and strategy until more than 2.5 years after it began operating in Afghanistan,” the report states. As a result, task force leaders were “often unable to hold contractors accountable for poor performance, resulting in money being wasted on contracts that had no positive outcomes,” investigators found.

In the end, the reconstruction task force “did not have the time, resident expertise, or outside support it needed to do everything it set out to do … [while] failing to account for realities in operating in Afghanistan including politics, culture, weather, and security- resulting in waste,” SIGAR investigators concluded.

• Carlo Muñoz can be reached at cmunoz@washingtontimes.com.

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