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GAO plans second probe into KMCC

Workers install large brick siding outside the billeting entrance of the Kaiserslautern Military Community Center.

BEN BLOKER / S&S

Issues continue to plague Ramstein mall/hotel complex

By CHARLIE REED | STARS AND STRIPES Published: November 19, 2007

The Government Accountability Office, which issued a scathing report this summer on the massive Kaiserslautern Military Community Center mall/hotel complex, is expected to launch another investigation early next year, according to officials with the congressional agency.

More than 15 times the size of the White House, the 844,000-square-foot center at Ramstein Air Base, Germany, was commissioned by U.S. Air Forces Europe headquarters and is being built by German construction company Landesbetrieb Liegenschafts und Baubetreuung, or LBB. Ground-breaking ceremonies were held in December 2004; it was supposed to have opened more than a year ago.

Not only is it behind schedule, but American and German officials still are unable to determine when the almost $200 million project will be finished.

“The KMCC is clearly a troubled project and there’s no end in sight,” Greg Kutz, GAO director of forensic audits and special investigations, said this week.

The GAO will examine how — or if — the Air Force and LBB have corrected shoddy construction and mismanagement issues, which are responsible for side effects including vandalism and allegations of fraud, said Kutz, who will help lead the latest investigation.

The new probe comes at the urging of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, which held a hearing on the KMCC in June that coincided with the GAO’s initial report, which Kutz co-authored.

“The Air Force did not want to claim responsibility for any of the problems with the KMCC,” and while complex German construction laws have “tied the Air Force’s hands to some extent,” to say “they have no responsibility is denial,” he said.

“Whenever you have control of the checkbook, you have some level of control.”

Top Air Force officials have refused to publicly discuss the project.

This time around, Kutz said, the GAO hopes to more closely examine “what this thing actually costs … and who’s paying for the mistakes.”

But determining the center’s true price tag will be difficult because of additional expenses associated with the construction problems, payment disputes between the Air Force and LBB and an unfavorable dollar/euro exchange rate, Kutz said.

Making matters worse is that all of the extra money being spent to get the project back on track — from major expenditures such as fixing a botched leaky roof to smaller payments for additional consultants needed along the way — could go unreported because it doesn’t fall within the original $170 million budget, he said.

The Army and Air Force Exchange Service, the project’s major contributor, recently disclosed that it has spent roughly $75,000 during the past year to store furniture and fixtures that should have been installed at the new facility already.

Less quantifiable is the revenue AAFES is losing every day the center is not open, said Lt. Col. David Konop, AAFES spokesman.

“It’s hard to put a dollar amount on it,” he said.

Air Force officials close to the project are not as forthcoming. They will not disclose how much the German government intends to loan LBB in order to get workers back on the site, or if the military will reimburse the company.

Repeated requests since August by Stars and Stripes to tour the site and interview high-ranking Air Force officials overseeing the project have been denied. An interview that was scheduled for Friday was canceled.

While USAFE officials remain mum for the most part, many servicemembers and civilians in Kaiserslautern and other military communities in Germany have a lot to say about the beleaguered facility.

“It’s a little embarrassing that we’ve got this big ol’ base and we can’t get the mall up and running,” said Selena Waltman, whose husband is a civilian employee at Landstuhl Regional Medical Center.

Like many people, Waltman, who has lived in the Kaiserslautern Military Community since 2003, expected the KMCC to be open by now.

“It’s kind of disappointing every time I drive by,” she said. “I’d just like to see it up and running, and [I] wonder how much more it’s going to cost because it’s in disrepair.”

For Army Sgt. 1st Class Jarvis Jennings, the problems surrounding the massive complex near Ramstein’s west gate would not be as controversial if officials, both American and German, were more accountable.

“It’s costing taxpayers a lot of money. ... It just seems more political than anything,” said Jennings, with the Mannheim-based 2nd Signal Brigade. “Everyone’s pointing the finger at everyone else.”


The scene outside the Kaiserslautern Military Community Center mall entrance looks all but vacant at Ramstein Air Base, Germany. Federal investigators are gearing up to re-examine the troubled mall/hotel complex.
BEN BLOKER / S&S