Task force aims to fix troubled K-town complex
U.S. Air Forces in Europe is relying on a special task force in hopes of putting Ramstein Air Base’s stalled mall-hotel complex back on track and finding out what could have been done to prevent a cavalcade of problems.
But more than five months after a congressional hearing looking into fraud, waste and abuse on the project, the Air Force and the German state agency overseeing the construction of the Kaiserslautern Military Community Center do not know when either the hotel or mall will open for business.
The task force includes representatives from the secretary of the Air Force’s office in Washington, USAFE and the Air Force Audit Agency, said Lt. Col. Angela Billings, a spokeswoman for U.S. Air Forces in Europe at Ramstein. Members of the group met last week at the command’s headquarters in Ramstein to attend a quarterly, closed-door meeting about the troubled complex.
Gen. Tom Hobbins, USAFE commander, formed the task force in July — in response to the congressional committee hearing — to find out “lessons learned” and to jump-start a project mired in mismanagement, poor coordination, fraud allegations, design flaws and work stoppages. The Air Force first noted the existence of the task force in an article last Friday in the military command-edited newspaper Kaiserslautern American.
In a written response to questions, USAFE wrote that the task force is designed to be a “short-term staff assistance” team that has “provided assistance and information” to German agencies overseeing the construction. The Air Force has refused on-the-record interviews about the project.
Brig. Gen. Duane Jones, USAFE director of logistics, and Col. Robert Moriarty had led the task force. But Jones recently was selected for reassignment to Air Force headquarters in Washington. Billings said Moriarty would now lead the group.
A second organization, the KMCC Oversight Council, is a separate, senior-level group chaired by Maj. Gen. Marc Rogers, USAFE vice commander, that has met quarterly over the past three years to help move the project along, USAFE said in the e-mail. The council now includes a German federal government representative and includes status briefings by German government construction agency, Landesbetrieb Liegenschafts und Baubetreuung, LBB. The state agency is tasked with building the mall and hotel.
Air Force officials say the project will come in below the $182 million budgeted, but federal investigators say delays and shoddy construction work could push the price tag beyond $200 million. The 844,000-square-foot complex broke ground in December 2004, and the hotel portion of the building was scheduled to open as early as late 2005.
The Air Force and LBB report that the hotel is 90 percent complete and the mall is 80 percent complete.