The United States has spent $154.7 million, three times the original estimate, to build the Afghan Ministry of Defense headquarters in Kabul, according to a top federal watchdog.
The price tag for the five-story building was initially set at $48.7 million but because of “problems with the contract from the outset,” the cost mushroomed and the project took five years longer to complete than the 18 months originally planned, says a new report from the office of John Sopko, the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR).
“Not only did the Afghan National Army refuse the contractor, ITSI, a U.S. company, access to the site for about a year, but other delays, such as weather, security, and funding issues, emerged,” the report states.
The report is just the latest example of what has been a steady stream, bordering on a flood, of instances in which the U.S. has mismanaged funds in the nearly 15-year conflict in Afghanistan, which has cost the country about $1 trillion and counting.
After six visits, SIGAR determined that while the ministry’s building was “well-built,” there were still “several construction issues,” including ones that could impair the structure’s ability to survive an earthquake or even a significant amount of rain.
Despite the drawbacks, the Combined Security Transition Command-Afghanistan (CSTC-A) transferred ownership to the Afghanis on Dec. 28, 2015. But as of Jan. 7, the building wasn’t fully occupied, the report notes.
The ballooned price tag and delays are eerily reminiscent of the work done by now-defunct U.S. Defense Department task force accused of wasting millions of taxpayer dollars in its efforts to rebuild Afghanistan's economy.
The disbanded group, known as the Task Force for Business and Stability Operations (TFBSO), has come under intense scrutiny after a series of scathing SIAGR reports found it wasted millions building a natural gas station in the war-torn country and $150 million on private villas.
A Senate Armed Services Committee subpanel held a hearing focused on the task force last month where questions from lawmakers were met with a shrug from a senior Pentagon official.
The Defense Department isn’t off the hook, though. Earlier this month, Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) fired off a letter to the Pentagon that asked 23 questions about the task force, including how Congress appropriated $800 million for TFBSO, but only $638 million was spent.
“Please document what happened to the $182 million in unexpended appropriations and whether expired funds were returned to the Treasury, as required by law, or were reprogrammed by Congress for other purposes,” Grassley said in the missive to Defense Secretary Ash Carter.