U.S. investigators wrapping up visit
March 11, 2008
KAISERSLAUTERN, Germany — Federal investigators with the Government Accountability Office have spent the past two weeks at Ramstein Air Base as part of a second probe into the troubled Kaiserslautern Military Community Center.
Investigators are looking to see if the problems that delayed the 844,000-square-foot mall and hotel have been fixed, as well as to get an update on the estimated cost, when it will be finished and the status of various fraud investigations, said Greg Kutz, GAO director of forensic audits and special investigations.
The agency plans to release a report on its findings in late spring or early summer, he said.
German state construction agency Landesbetrieb Liegenschafts und Baubetreuung, or LBB, is coordinating the construction with oversight provided by U.S. Air Forces Europe headquarters.
USAFE played host to the GAO over the last few weeks, facilitating interviews with KMCC project experts, according to Lt. Col. Angela Billings, command spokeswoman.
Billings, in an e-mail to Stars and Stripes, also announced that a contract had been awarded to Lanzensteil, a Germany company, to fix a portion of the facility’s roof.
The environmentally friendly roof was designed to have grass on top to absorb rainwater, but Air Force engineers noticed the roof leaked in 2006, and the contractor responsible is now bankrupt and unable to fix it. In a statement in December, LBB said less than 50 percent of the roof will need to be fixed but neither the Air Force nor the state agency could provide an estimated cost.
Air Force and German officials are predicting construction will be finished by the end of the year, but they do not have a date when the hotel or the Army and Air Force Exchange Service shopping center will be open for business. The facilities initially were scheduled to open in the summer of 2006.
The GAO released its first report on the project last June at a congressional hearing. Investigators found that construction had been plagued with mismanagement and poor construction work.
Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif., who called the project a “white elephant” during the June 28 hearing, ordered the GAO in November to take another look.
The GAO sent five investigators to Ramstein about two weeks ago, Kutz said. During their visit, they talked with Air Force and AAFES officials about the project. Two investigators have returned to the U.S., and the rest are expected to wrap up their visit soon and head back to Washington, D.C., to compile the report.
The Air Force and the GAO have differed on the estimated cost of the project. The Air Force says the final price tag will be around $161 million. Federal investigators say the figure will be closer to $200 million.
Air Force officials were unable to comment on the visit.