Watchdog: US reconstruction funds go unspent in Afghanistan
By HEATH DRUZIN | STARS AND STRIPES Published: January 23, 2014
KABUL — The Pentagon asked for $60 million in additional funds for reconstruction projects in Afghanistan this year, even though American forces have spent only a fraction of the hundreds of millions of tax dollars allotted already. The top U.S. government watchdog in Afghanistan wants to know why.
An analysis by the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction found that over the past six fiscal years only 59 percent of funds appropriated for the Commander’s Emergency Response Program were used.
In Fiscal 2013, the Department of Defense obligated only $43.5 million of $200 million appropriated for the military reconstruction fund. Yet, the DOD requested an additional $60 million for the fund for 2014, but received only half that from Congress.
A letter from the special inspector general, John Sopko, to the commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan, secretary of the Army and DOD comptroller requests an explanation for the disparity in requests and actual money spent.
Sopko said his office needs the information to prepare its part of a congressionally-mandated “lessons learned report.”
From the report
“SIGAR also needs to examine these issues to protect ongoing and future CERP projects from waste, fraud, and abuse,” the letter said, requesting explanations for why the funds were allocated were not spent and why additional funds were then requested. He also asked whether expired funds from past years were “reprogrammed for other purposes or returned to the U.S. Treasury.” He also asked that documentation, including a monthly breakdown of funds obligated and spent from the start of FY 2004 through December 2013 and an unclassified list of all CERP projects during that period be provided to his office within 30 days.
Jeff Hawk, a spokesman for U.S. Forces-Afghanistan, declined to comment. “We have received the letter and are reviewing its contents,” he said.
“There are likely many reasons why these funds were not used,” Sopko wrote. “For example, the accelerated U.S. troop drawdown may have reduced the need for these funds, or military commanders may have reduced the cost of various projects through effective oversight.
“Another factor may have been the overarching challenge of budgeting for small-scale reconstruction projects in an unpredictable conflict zone plagued by violence, corruption, and sustainability challenges,” Sopko wrote.
Funding for the reconstruction program was established in 2003 to allow local military commanders in Iraq and Afghanistan to quickly implement small-scale humanitarian relief and reconstruction projects, generally less than $500,000 each, partly as a stop-gap until larger reconstruction projects were planned.
Since 2008, more than $3 billion was appropriated for such projects in Afghanistan and about $1.7 billion was spent, according to a SIGAR chart. It shows that at the height of the U.S. military surge in 2010, $1 billion was appropriated for these small-scale reconstruction projects in the country, though only about $330 million was spent.
The program has come in for criticism in the past. A 2011 report by the Department of Defense Inspector General found that U.S. Central Command and U.S. Forces-Afghanistan had inadequate oversight over emergency response reconstruction projects, leading to overpayments and improper payments.
International reconstruction efforts in Afghanistan have been controversial, and often criticized for alleged lack of oversight and coordination with Afghan counterparts. While there have been tangible improvements in education, healthcare, and life-expectancy in Afghanistan over the course of the more than 12-year-old war, the country remains one of the poorest in the world and large, foreign-funded infrastructure projects — like the still unfinished Kajaki Dam — have had mixed success.
The U.S. has spent an estimated $100 billion rebuilding Afghanistan since American forces invaded the country in October, 2001.
A local Afghan contractor helps unload engineering equipment at Kandahar University delivered by members of Kandahar Provincial Reconstruction Team, May 22, 2012 in Kandahar, Afghanistan.
Timothy Chacon/U.S. Air Force