WASHINGTON — The Kaiserslautern Military Community Center won’t open for another year at the earliest and could take until 2010 to be fully operational, military officials acknowledged Wednesday.

Maj. Gen. Mark Rogers, vice commander of U.S. Air Forces in Europe, said German officials have told his office that work on the mall-hotel complex at Ramstein Air Base, already two years behind schedule, should be completed by next January, allowing shops and services to open their doors four or five months later.

"But whether they’ll actually be able to pull that off, I don’t know," he told members of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee on Wednesday. "I probably wouldn’t bet on it being done by then."

Instead, he told reporters after the hearing that he expected further delays, although this time for only a few months and not years.

Investigators from the Government Accountability Office cast doubt even on those pessimistic estimates, saying many of the construction problems they outlined last summer still have not been addressed.

The $163 million project has faced numerous issues, including poor oversight of work by German and U.S. officials, improper payment of contractors by Air Force officials and a work stoppage when construction companies stopped getting paid.

GAO Managing Director Gregory Kutz said some work has been done to pull flammable insulation from kitchen exhaust vents, but major repairs to the roof and duct work are still pending. Investigators also found previously undetected cracks in the center’s foundation during their walk-through last month.

"If it opens just three years late, that will be the best-case scenario," he said.

Kutz said Army and Air Force Exchange Services is losing about $500,000 a month in potential revenue from the facility, and military officials have spent almost $3 million more in outside hotel costs since the original completion date passed.

Committee members called the project -- the largest military construction site in the world -- a costly, embarrassing mess.

"As a result, 50,000 servicemen and women who live and work near Ramstein Air Base lack modern facilities," committee chairman Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif., said. "And servicemembers around the world have reduced funding for Morale, Welfare and Recreation."

Waxman chastised the Air Force for not maintaining better oversight throughout the project, but Rogers said most of the problems stem from German officials’ decision not to put a single general contractor in charge in 2004.

U.S. planners protested that move, he said, but ultimately had to submit to their decision.

Still, the GAO said USAFE representatives should have had better policies for oversight of change orders, invoices and other payment issues to better control progress. In the last year, Kutz said, many of those improvements have finally been implemented.

Rep. Tom Davis, R-Va., said that beyond those changes he saw little Air Force officials could do to speed up the completion date, but urged Rogers and his colleagues to continue seeking solutions.

"We just don’t want to be back here again next year, talking about the same thing," he said.

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