Civilian Surge/Uplift in Afghanistan Costs Nearly $2 Billion So What Are You Complaining About? It’s Not Exactly $2 BILLION!

SIGAR and the State Department OIG released last week their audit of the civilian surge, aka uplift in Afghanistan. The bad news is, the whole civilian shebang apparently costs the USG nearly $2 billion. The good news is, the whole civilian shebang costs the USG no more than $2 billion. Although don’t hold your breath over that good news. The cost will certainly go up.

Excerpts below:

Since early 2009, U.S. agencies have nearly tripled the number of civilians deployed to Afghanistan under Chief of Mission authority at a cost of nearly $2 billion. The number of U.S. civilian employees deployed to Afghanistan increased from 320 in early 2009 to 1,040 personnel by June 2011. As the primary agency responsible for funding the civilian uplift and providing safe and functional working and living conditions for all agencies, the Department of State (State) incurred the majority of the $1.7 billion obligated to support the uplift, in addition to security costs.

Congress authorized State to transfer funds to other agencies to support operations in and assistance for Afghanistan, and SIGAR and State OIG found that State has not taken sufficient steps to ensure that State funds transferred to other agencies are used for their intended purposes. The Foreign Affairs Manual indicates that obligations should be supported by evidence of binding agreements in writing between U.S. agencies regarding the use of funds. In addition, government-wide internal control standards highlight the importance of agency monitoring to ensure funds are expended for their intended purposes. However, we found that State had neither established formal mechanisms with other agencies regarding their use of civilian uplift funds nor monitored how agencies spent funds and instead relied on informal communications such as emails and meetings. As a result, this increased the risk that funds would not be spent for their intended purpose. In one instance, we determined that the Department of Transportation (Transportation) did not know whether $3.5 million in State transfers were authorized for training or other purposes, and as a result Transportation cancelled plans to utilize the funding.

State and other agencies are likely to experience increased costs related to an expanded civilian presence in Afghanistan, and State faces significant challenges in planning to address these costs. First, the U.S. military’s withdrawal from Afghanistan will likely lead to cost increases for State due to key military security functions that State will assume. Second, a legislative proposal to standardize pay and benefits for all civilians deployed to Afghanistan could also result in increased costs for civilian agencies. Third, the opening of two consulates in Afghanistan could increase costs due to security and housing requirements. Although officials in State’s Bureau of South and Central Asian Affairs have started planning to address the costs of supporting and sustaining the civilian presence in Afghanistan, they face a number of planning challenges, such as budget uncertainty and the absence of details on the expected size of the civilian presence in Afghanistan in coming years.

The report made it clear that “civilian uplift personnel are defined as U.S. government civilian employees deployed to Afghanistan under Chief of Mission authority after January 2009 to support the campaign for Afghanistan.”

How much does it cost to send one government civilian to Afghanistan? Here’s what SIGAR/OIG says:

Typically, the U.S. government spends between $425,926 and $570,998 to support the deployment of one U.S. government civilian to Afghanistan for a 1-year assignment. Actual agency costs vary depending on factors such as the salary level of the deployed employee, fees for life support services at the Embassy and in the field, and individual agencies overtime policies. These costs are broken down in table 1 and described in more detail in appendix II.

Back in June, I posted in this blog,  Afghanistan, the Way Forward — You Know What’s Coming — Send In the Expeditionary Ones.  I don’t think I’m so far off.  No talks on how many more civilians will be roped into going there but State officials have now confirmed to SIGAR/OIG that they expect their costs to increase as the military pulls out of Afghanistan.

State and other agencies are likely to experience increased costs related to an expanded civilian presence in Afghanistan, and State faces challenges in planning for these contingencies. The U.S. military’s withdrawal from Afghanistan, targeted for 2014, will likely lead to cost increases similar to those experienced by State after the U.S. military withdrew from Iraq. A legislative proposal to standardize pay and benefits for civilian uplift personnel from all agencies could also result in increased costs for civilian agencies, which have not consistently provided the same level of benefits that State accords its employees. Finally, the opening of two new consulates in Herat and Mazar-e-Sharif, Afghanistan could increase costs. Although SCA officials have initiated planning to address these matters, they face a number of planning challenges.

State’s Undersecretary for Management’s letter to DOD on April 7, 2010 was also cited in the report.  In that letter to DOD, the U/S for Management said that State would have “a critical need for logistical and life support of a magnitude and scale of complexity that was unprecedented in the history of the Department of State.”

He was referring to Iraq, of course, but that could easily apply to Afghanistan after the military “drawdown” in whatever shape or form in 2014. Which means, the State Department has some 2-3 years to get it right in Iraq before it has to go at it all over again in Afghanistan. My confidence in that prospect is overwhelming!

About those two consulates in Herat and Mazar?

Embassy management officials noted that two consulates were established in Herat and Mazar-e-Sharif in 2011, and OBO has developed temporary facilities to initially house the consulates. According to OBO, the temporary Herat consulate was to have 20 desks and 30 beds; however, the plans were modified to accommodate 100 desks and 70 beds due to the civilian uplift. Similarly, the temporary Mazar-e-Sharif consulate was to have 20 desks, but the plans were redesigned to accommodate 37 desks. According to SCA officials, State has not yet determined whether permanent consulates will be established in Herat and Mazar-e-Sharif. However, OBO officials told us these temporary consulates may be replaced by permanent consulates. If established, these posts could represent substantial additional costs for State. For example, according to an official at the U.S. Embassy in Kabul, State would have to pay for supplies and services, including food, motor pools, vehicle repair, air traffic control at the airport, crash and rescue, medical evacuation, and hospital services, among many others. The State official said that these items would likely constitute a significant cost increase.

So, something like 97 more personnel in both consulates not counting the XXX number of personnel all over Iraq in 2011? In 2012? In 2013? In 2014? In the year forever more. And there is of course, the rest of the world that needs staffing, too.

Assignments in Afghanistan are for one-year tours which beg the question on where are you going to get XXX number of people year in and year out to serve there in perpetuity?  

Related item:
SIGAR Audit-11-17 & State OIG AUD/SI-11-45 Civilian Uplift