DOD Builds the World’s Most Expensive Gas Station in Afghanistan For $43M, Oh, Joy!

Posted: 1:01 am EDT


Apparently, we’ve built a compressed natural gas (CNG) automobile filling station in the city of Sheberghan, Afghanistan. The project cost almost $43 million, and the average Afghans can’t even afford to use it.

The Task Force for Business and Stability Operations (TFBSO or Task Force) was originally created by the Department of Defense (DOD) to help revive the post-invasion economy of Iraq. In 2009, TFBSO was redirected to Afghanistan, where its mission was to carry out projects to support economic development. From 2010 through 2014, Congress appropriated approximately $822 million to TFBSO for Afghanistan, of which the task force obligated approximately $766 million.

The contract awarded to Central Asian Engineering to construct the station was for just under $3 million. Yet according to an economic impact assessment performed at the request of TFBSO:

The Task Force spent $42,718,739 between 2011 and 2014 to fund the construction and to supervise the initial operation of the CNG station (approximately $12.3 [million] in direct costs and $30.0 [million] in overhead costs).

SIGAR says that the $43 million total cost of the TFBSO-funded CNG filling station far exceeds the estimated cost of CNG stations elsewhere. According to a 2010 publication of the International Energy Association, “the range of investment for a public [CNG] station serving an economically feasible amount of vehicles varies from $200,000 to $500,000. Costs in non-OECD [Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development] countries are likely to be in the lower end of this range.”

The SIGAR report notes that the total cost of building a CNG station in Pakistan would be approximately $306,000 at current exchange rates.  In short, at $43 million, the TFBSO filling station cost 140 times as much as a CNG station in Pakistan.

$43 million from the American taxpayers.

The SIGAR report also says that its ’s review of this project was hindered by DOD’s lack of cooperation, and when it comes to TFBSO activities, DOD appears determined to restrict or hinder SIGAR access.

It is both surprising and troubling that only a few months following the closure of TFBSO, DOD has not been able to find anyone who knows anything about TFBSO activities, despite the fact that TFBSO reported directly to the Office of the Secretary of Defense, operated in Afghanistan for over five years, and was only shut down in March 2015.

Further, SIGAR says that “If TFBSO had conducted a feasibility study of the project, they might have noted that Afghanistan lacks the natural gas transmission and local distribution infrastructure necessary to support a viable market for CNG vehicles.  Additionally, it appears that the cost of converting a car to run on CNG may be prohibitive for the average Afghan. TFBSO’s contractor, stated that conversion to CNG costs $700 per car in Afghanistan, where the average annual income is $690.”

We meant well in Afghanistan, too. Oh, joy!  What edition are we on?

But serious question. How can we have something happen like this, with DOD hindering/restricting SIGAR’s access and no one is in jail?

The read and weep report is available online here: 



Ambassador Richard Olson as New Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan (SRAP)

Posted: 1:06 am EDT


The State Department announced the appointment of Ambassador Richard Olson as the new Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan (SRAP).


Ambassador Richard Olson will succeed Dan Feldman, who concluded his tenure September 18, as U.S. Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan (SRAP). Ambassador Olson will assume his responsibilities as SRAP on November 17, after concluding his service as the U.S. Ambassador to Pakistan. As were his predecessors, Ambassador Olson will be responsible for developing and implementing policies and programs that support U.S. national security interests in promoting stability and increasing prosperity in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Ambassador Olson brings extraordinary experience in Afghanistan and Pakistan, as well as elsewhere, to his new position. He has served as U.S. Ambassador to the Islamic Republic of Pakistan for the last three years. Prior to his experience in Islamabad, Ambassador Olson served as the Coordinating Director for Development and Economic Affairs at U.S. Embassy Kabul, Afghanistan, from 2011 to 2012, during which time he oversaw all U.S. non-military assistance programs and support for the Afghan government. He also served as U.S. Ambassador to the United Arab Emirates from 2008 to 2011. He is a member of the Senior Foreign Service, and has served at the U.S. Department of State since 1982.


State Dept Honors Six Security Contractors Killed in 2014 Camp Gibson-Kabul Suicide Attack

Posted: 3:11  am EDT


On August 3, the State Department held a ceremony honoring six security personnel who were killed while working for DynCorp International on behalf of the Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs (INL) in Afghanistan.

All six honorees were security guards at Camp Gibson in Kabul and were killed on July 22, 2014, when a suicide bomber riding a motorcycle attacked the camp.  They hailed from four different countries – Fiji, India, Kenya, and Nepal.  Deputy Secretary Heather Higginbottom and INL Assistant Secretary William R. Brownfield will pay tribute to our fallen colleagues by laying a wreath at the INL Memorial Wall located within the State Department building at its 21st Street Entrance.

There are 93 names on the wall commemorating the individuals from 12 countries and the United States who lost their lives between 1989 and 2014 while supporting the Department’s criminal justice assistance programs abroad.  These individuals collaborated with host governments and civil society in challenging environments to enhance respect for rule of law around the world.  The Department is proud to recognize their service and sacrifice to our nation.

A virtual INL Memorial Wall is available at to pay tribute to the 93 honorees and their families.



The State Department announcement does not include the names of those honored at the INL ceremony. The New Indian Express identified the two Indian nationals as P V Kuttappan and Raveendran Parambath, as well as the two Nepali security guards as Ganga Limbu and Anil Gurung.  The security guards from Fiji and Kenya were not identified.


Snapshot: US Embassy Kabul Capital Investments, FY2002-March 2015 Now at $2.17Billion

Posted: 2:45 am EDT

Via GAO-15-410 (pdf):

State’s past and planned capital construction investments in Kabul from 2002 through March 2015 total $2.17 billion in project funding, which includes awarded construction contracts and other costs State incurs that are not part of those contracts. Examples of other State project costs include federal project supervision, construction security, security equipment, and project contingencies.12 Figure 3 shows these investments.

US Embassy Kabul Capital Projects FY2002-2015

US Embassy Kabul Capital Projects FY2002-2015 Past and Planned Capital Investments (via GAO) | click image for larger view


In fiscal years 2009 and 2010, State awarded two contracts originally worth $625.4 million in total to meet growing facility requirements at the U.S. embassy in Kabul. The first contract, awarded to Contractor 1 in September 2009 for $209.4 million, was for the design and construction of temporary and permanent structures to include

  • temporary offices and housing,
  • office annex A,
  • apartment building 1,
  • cafeteria and recreation center,
  • perimeter security and compound access facilities,
  • warehouse addition, and
  • utility building.The second contract, awarded to Contractor 2 in September 2010 for $416 million, was for the design and construction of:
  • office annex B,
  • apartment buildings 2 and 3,
  • expansion of existing apartment building 4,
  • compound access and perimeter security facilities, and parking facilities—to include a vehicle maintenance facility.

    State’s plans called for sequencing construction under the two contracts and demolishing older temporary facilities to make space available for new facilities. State’s plans also entailed acquiring the Afghan Ministry of Public Health site adjacent to the compound to build parking facilities for approximately 400 embassy vehicles. In September 2011, after the U.S. and Afghan governments did not reach agreement to transfer that site, State had to remove the parking and vehicle maintenance facilities from the project.

    In September 2011, State partially terminated elements of the first contract—specifically the permanent facilities, including office annex A and apartment building 1—for the convenience of the U.S. government, in part, due to concerns about contractor performance and schedule delays. Contractor 1 completed the temporary offices and housing units, but in September 2011, State transferred contract requirements for the permanent facilities not begun by Contractor 1 to Contractor 2’s contract.

    The estimated completion of project has now been moved from summer 2014 to fall 2017.



We Meant Well, Afghanistan Edition: Ghost Students, Ghost Teachers, Ghost Schools, Ugh!

Posted: 1:16 am  PDT




Over and over, the United States has touted education — for which it has spent more than $1 billion — as one of its premier successes in Afghanistan, a signature achievement that helped win over ordinary Afghans and dissuade a future generation of Taliban recruits. As the American mission faltered, U.S. officials repeatedly trumpeted impressive statistics — the number of schools built, girls enrolled, textbooks distributed, teachers trained, and dollars spent — to help justify the 13 years and more than 2,000 Americans killed since the United States invaded.

But a BuzzFeed News investigation — the first comprehensive journalistic reckoning, based on visits to schools across the country, internal U.S. and Afghan databases and documents, and more than 150 interviews — has found those claims to be massively exaggerated, riddled with ghost schools, teachers, and students that exist only on paper. The American effort to educate Afghanistan’s children was hollowed out by corruption and by short-term political and military goals that, time and again, took precedence over building a viable school system. And the U.S. government has known for years that it has been peddling hype.
USAID program reports obtained by BuzzFeed News indicate the agency knew as far back as 2006 that enrollment figures were inflated, but American officials continued to cite them to Congress and the American public.

As for schools it actually constructed, USAID claimed for years that it had built or refurbished more than 680, a figure Hillary Clinton cited to Congress in 2010 when she was secretary of state. By 2014, that number had dropped to “more than 605.” After months of pressing for an exact figure, the agency told BuzzFeed News the number was 563, a drop of at least 117 schools from what it had long claimed.

Last week, we were looking for clinics.

What’s next … ghost soldiers? Oops, that’s already an old story?


Burn Bag: Fly the Friendly Skies Via Helo For 2.2 Miles Between Embassy Kabul and Kabul International Airport

Via Burn Bag:

“After nearly 14 years, $1 trillion, and more than 2,300 lives, the security situation in Kabul is such that the Embassy is using helicopters to transport its staff the 2.2 mile distance to the international airport.”




Burn Bag: Afghanistan — Is it better to be humbled than ruined?

Via Burn Bag:

“As I decompress after completing a one-year tour in Afghanistan, I often find myself mulling these words by the great English historian Edward Gibbon: “I shall never give my consent to exhaust still further the finest country in the world in this prosecution of a war from whence no reasonable man entertains any hope of success.  It is better to be humbled than ruined.”

Image via Imgur/zimgodo

Image via Imgur/zimgodo

U.S. Embassy Kabul Construction Cost: From $625.4M to $792.9M, and Going Up, Up and Away

Posted: 12:55 am EDT

The Government Accountability Office (GAO) recently released its report on Embassy Kabul Construction. Below is a a quick summary:

Since re-opening in 2002, the U.S. embassy in Kabul, Afghanistan, has experienced a dramatic increase in staffing, followed by a gradual drawdown. State has invested or plans to invest a total of $2.17 billion in U.S. facilities to address current and projected space needs. State awarded two contracts in 2009 and 2010 to construct additional on-compound housing and office facilities. State partially terminated one contract for the convenience of the U.S. government, and expanded the construction requirements of the second, affecting cost and schedule.

Schedule and cost: The Embassy Kabul project was originally scheduled for completion last summer but is now projected to be completed in fall of 2017. The cost has also increased from $625.4 million to $792.9 million.

Where two is better than one: Instead of building one temporary vehicle maintenance facility, the State Department ended up  funding two new, temporary vehicle maintenance facilities—one at Camp Sullivan (built by OBO) and one at Qasemi Lot (to be built by DS). Apparently, post officials reported that there are security concerns with using the Sullivan vehicle maintenance facility. And if that’s the case, one wonders why OBO did not scrub the other one, hey?

Which five overseas posts have hardened trailers? According to DS officials, hardened trailers could be required as part of State’s containerized housing and office unit task orders. State reported to the GAO that the hardened trailer specification has been applied to temporary facilities at five overseas posts.

Temporary facilities: As of February 2015, temporary facilities on the embassy compound provided nearly 1,100 desks and 760 beds.

Permanent facilities: Once the current construction is completed, the Kabul embassy’s permanent facilities—both older and newly constructed office and apartment buildings—will contain 1,487 desks and 819 beds. Those totals do not include the desks or beds in temporary offices and housing facilities.

The never ending story: State planning documents, as well as post and OBO officials, identify a continued need for some of the temporary facilities following completion of the permanent facilities in 2017. That would be 875 temporary desks and 472 to 640 temporary beds.  The GAO notes that even with the permanent construction completion “temporary housing will continue to provide between 37 and 44 percent of the available beds on-compound” at Embassy Kabul.

Image via

Image via

What the GAO found:

  • Cost and schedule have increased for the Kabul embassy construction project, in part due to incomplete cost and risk assessment. Cost for the 2009 and 2010 contracts has increased by about 27 percent, from $625.4 million to $792.9 million, and is likely to increase further. Projected completion has been delayed over 3 years to fall 2017. The Department of State (State) did not follow its cost containment and risk assessment policies, resulting in lost opportunities to mitigate risks. These risks, such as delays in the sequencing of the two contracts, eventually materialized, increasing cost and extending schedule. Unless State follows its policy, it may be unable to avoid or mitigate risks to cost and schedule on future projects.
  • Since 2002, State has built over $100 million in temporary buildings (intended for no more than 5 years’ use) to meet space needs on-compound but has no security standards tailored to those facilities. On completing the project in 2017, all temporary facilities will be 5 to 10 years old, and their continued use is likely.
  • State does not have a strategic facilities plan for Kabul that documents current and future embassy needs, comprehensively outlines existing facilities, analyzes gaps, provides projected costs, and documents decisions made. Lack of such a plan has inhibited coordination and undermined the continuity necessary to address emergent needs at the Kabul embassy.

Too many cooks and constant personnel turnover:

According to State officials in Kabul and Washington, coordination to address the Kabul embassy’s future needs is particularly difficult due to the large number of stakeholders in Kabul and in Washington. Additionally, the constant personnel turnover caused by the 1-year tours served by most management, facilities, and security staff in Kabul results in lack of continuity in decision making. As far back as January 2006, the State Office of Inspector General also identified “the near total lack of institutional memory” stemming from the lack of staff continuity and a “never-ending” learning curve as the most serious impediment to good executive direction at the U.S. embassy in Kabul.

Post and Inter-Bureau Cooperation: Embassy Kabul, DS, OBO

Without a comprehensive plan that provides a strategic framework to document mission needs, catalog existing facilities, analyze gaps, provide projected costs, and document recommendations, the competing proposals of the post’s many stakeholders are difficult to manage, prioritize, and reconcile. As a result, State officials in Kabul said that these meetings suffer from no common vision and a lack of decision making. Consequently, State has been challenged to efficiently address changing embassy needs in several instances on- and off-compound. For example:

      • Interference with on-compound construction—OBO officials in Kabul expressed frustration that proposals for new projects would often conflict with plans previously agreed to by previous post management staff. For example, during our fieldwork, post management proposed to locate a helicopter landing zone near the embassy warehouse. However, according to OBO officials on-site, they had arranged with the previous management team to reserve that space as a staging area for the contractor to build the warehouse expansion. When asked about this, post management officials stated that they had no continuity document that informed them of this earlier decision.
      • On-compound physical security upgrades—DS first requested changes to the embassy compound’s security perimeter in December 2010 and added more requirements in response to attacks against the compound in September 2011. In February 2013, the post urged OBO to provide a project schedule and expedite the upgrades. However, that was not done and as of March 2015 OBO and DS had not reached agreement on schedules and costs for some security upgrade projects.
      • Camp Seitz—In 2013, DS and post management decided to relocate the Kabul Embassy Guard Force from Camp Sullivan and the Protective Security Detail (movement protection) Guard forces from another camp to sites closer to the embassy compound due to security concerns. To facilitate this, DS initiated the acquisition of the Camp Seitz site through OBO. However, according to State officials, DS then began construction of temporary housing at Camp Seitz without submitting the design to OBO for review or applying for a building permit. After OBO became aware of the completed construction, it identified fire safety deficiencies that DS had to correct.
      • Camp Sullivan, Camp Eggers, Qasemi Lot Vehicle Maintenance Facility—As part of the security contractor relocation, post management and DS proposed removing several support facilities, including a vehicle maintenance facility, from an ongoing construction project at Camp Sullivan and transferring them to Camp Eggers. Post management and DS officials stated that once the temporary vehicle maintenance facility on-compound is demolished to make way for apartment buildings 2 and 3, it would be better for security and logistics to build the replacement vehicle maintenance facility close to the compound rather than at Camp Sullivan. However, OBO proceeded to build the Sullivan vehicle maintenance facility because negotiations for the 30 leases required at Camp Eggers were not complete, and OBO was concerned that if an alternative vehicle maintenance facility was not in place, construction of apartments 2 and 3 could be delayed and their costs increased.56 Discussions continued among OBO, DS, and post management, and the proposed vehicle maintenance facility was shifted to Qasemi Lot, a site adjacent to Camp Seitz. OBO decided not to descope the Camp Sullivan vehicle maintenance facility until plans for a replacement facility at Qasemi Lot were approved by OBO and DS had awarded a construction contract with a scheduled completion date prior to the demolition date for the existing vehicle maintenance facility on- compound. As a result, State is funding two new, temporary vehicle maintenance facilities—one at Camp Sullivan (built by OBO) and one at Qasemi Lot (to be built by DS).57


Conspired to Defraud Uncle Sam? Be Very Afraid. We’re Gonna Put You in Home Confinement!

Posted: 9:40 am EDT


Remember the USAID nonprofit contractor IRD? (See Dear USAID OIG — That Nonprofit Contractor Mess Really Needs a Fact Sheet). Well, here’s another one.  This is a case where the CEO of a major USAID contractor gets feather-slapped by the court.

A 2011 ranking of private USAID partners by lists LBG as the third largest USAID private-sector partner that has contracted some of the government’s largest post-conflict redevelopment projects in Iraq and Afghanistan. According to Bloomberg, Louis Berger International, a unit of Louis Berger Group, got about $736 million to modernize a power system and rehabilitate the Kajakai Dam in Afghanistan.  Whoa! We thought that dam only cost $305.5 million! Plus cost of fuel that  US taxpayers also had to shoulder.

What is missing from this announcement? How much was the total contracts that LBG received in the last 20 years? Who’s paying the independent monitor? And for heaven’s sake, what lessons are we sending to other reconstruction capitalists doing awesome work for love of god and country?


The former president, chief executive officer, and chairman of the board of a New Jersey-based international engineering consulting company was sentenced today to 12 months of home confinement and fined $4.5 million for conspiring to defraud the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) with respect to billions of dollars in contracts over a nearly 20-year period, U.S. Attorney Paul J. Fishman announced.

Derish Wolff, 79, of Bernardsville, New Jersey, previously pleaded guilty before U.S. District Judge Anne E. Thompson to a superseding information charging conspiracy to defraud the government with respect to claims. Judge Thompson imposed the sentence today in Trenton federal court.

According to documents filed in this case and statements made in court:

Wolff, the former president and CEO of Morristown, New Jersey-based Louis Berger Group Inc. (LBG), and the former chairman of LBG’s parent company, Berger Group Holdings Inc. (BGH), led a conspiracy to defraud USAID by billing the agency on so-called “cost-reimbursable” contracts – including hundreds of millions of dollars of contracts for reconstructive work in Iraq and Afghanistan – for LBG’s overhead and other indirect costs at falsely inflated rates.

USAID, an independent federal government agency that advances U.S. foreign policy by supporting economic growth, agriculture, trade, global health, democracy, and humanitarian assistance in developing countries, including countries destabilized by violent conflict, awarded LBG hundreds of millions of dollars in reconstruction contracts in Iraq and Afghanistan as well as in other nations. LBG calculated certain overhead rates and charged USAID and other federal agencies these rates on cost-reimbursable contracts, which enabled LBG to pass on their overhead costs to the agency in general proportion to how much labor LBG devoted to the government contracts.

From at least 1990 through July 2009, LBG, through Wolff and other former executives, intentionally overbilled USAID in connection with these cost-reimbursable contracts. The scheme to defraud the government was carried out by numerous LBG employees at the direction of Wolff.

Wolff targeted a particular overhead rate, irrespective of what the actual rate was, and ordered his subordinates to achieve that target rate through a variety of fraudulent means. From at least as early as 1990 through 2000, Wolff ordered LBG’s assistant controller to instruct the accounting department to pad its time sheets with hours ostensibly devoted to federal government projects when it had not actually worked on such projects.

At an LBG annual meeting in September 2001, Salvatore Pepe, who was then the controller and eventually became chief financial officer (CFO), presented a USAID overhead rate that was significantly below Wolff’s target. In response, Wolff denounced Pepe, called him an “assassin” of the overhead rate and ordered him to target a rate above 140 percent, meaning that for every dollar of labor devoted to a USAID contract, LBG would receive an additional $1.40 in overhead expenses supposedly incurred by LBG.

In response, Pepe and former controller Precy Pellettieri, with Wolff’s supervision, hatched a fraudulent scheme from 2003 through 2007 to systematically reclassify the work hours of LBG’s corporate employees, including high-ranking executives and employees in the general accounting division, to make it appear as if those employees worked on federal projects when they did not. At his plea hearing on Dec. 12, 2014, Wolff admitted that Pepe and Pellettieri, at Wolff’s direction, reclassified these hours without the employees’ knowledge and without investigating whether the employees had correctly accounted for their time, and at times did so over an employee’s objection.

In addition to padding employees’ work hours with fake hours supposedly devoted to USAID work, Wolff instructed his subordinates to charge all commonly shared overhead expenses, such as rent, at LBG’s Washington, D.C., office to an account created to capture USAID-related expenses, even though the D.C. office supported many projects unrelated to USAID or other federal government agencies.

On Nov. 5, 2010, Pepe and Pellettieri both pleaded guilty before then-U.S. Magistrate Judge Patty Shwartz to separate informations charging them with conspiring to defraud the government with respect to claims. Also on that date, LBG resolved criminal and civil fraud charges related to Wolff’s and others’ conduct. The components of the settlement included:

  • a Deferred Prosecution Agreement (DPA), pursuant to which the U.S. Attorney’s Office in New Jersey suspended prosecution of a criminal complaint charging LBG with a violation of the Major Fraud Statute; in exchange, LBG agreed, among other things, to pay $18.7 million in related criminal penalties; make full restitution to USAID; adopt effective standards of conduct, internal controls systems, and ethics training programs for employees; and employ an independent monitor who would evaluate and oversee the company’s compliance with the DPA for a two-year period;
  • a civil settlement that required the company to pay the government $50.6 million to resolve allegations that LBG violated the False Claims Act by charging inflated overhead rates that were used for invoicing on government contracts; and an administrative agreement between LBG and USAID, which was the primary victim of the fraudulent scheme.

In the settlement, the government took into consideration LBG’s cooperation with the investigation and the fact that those responsible for the wrongdoing were no longer associated with the company.

Click here for the original announcement (pdf).


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Tweet of the Day: The Truth Behind The Afghanistan ‘Success Story’

Posted: 1:32 am EDT



Looking at an American intervention that’s going to end, not with a bang, but on a deadline, it can be tough to find the silver lining.

This week Forbes contributor Loren Thompson tried to do that in a piece called “Five Signs Afghanistan Is Becoming An American Success Story,” making the case that staying the course in Afghanistan is “paying off.” His premise that Americans can hold their head high on Afghanistan is based on five points: the solid performance of Afghan forces, the country’s improved political climate, Islamabad’s renewed interest in cooperating with Kabul, a booming Afghan economy, and popular support for Afghanistan’s national institutions. It’s a concise, readable assessment, with one problem: The country Thompson describes doesn’t exist.

Gary Owen is a veteran, development worker, and blogger at “Sunny in Kabul.” He is also a regular contributor to the Afghan Analysts Network and Vice News. Gary Owen is a pseudonym. Follow Gary Owen on Twitter @elsnarkistani.