Hopeless But Optimistic: Journeying through America’s Endless War in #Afghanistan (Excerpt)

Posted: 2:24 am ET
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Douglas Wissing previously wrote a book entitled, Funding the Enemy: How US Taxpayers Bankroll the Taliban.  He’s back with a new book, Hopeless but Optimistic: Journeying through America’s Endless War in Afghanistan. Kirkus Review calls it “a scathing dispatch” with “pungent, embittered, eye-opening observations of a conflict involving lessons still unlearned.”

As he gets into Kabul to embed with the military, the author notes “a USAID (United States Agency for International Development) billboard proclaiming women’s rights in English and Dari that few Afghan females can read, because almost 90 percent of them are still illiterate after more than a decade and $100 billion spent on grotesquely mismanaged US aid programs.”

That Ring Road?  Wissing writes, “During his frantic reelection push after the botched Iraq invasion, President George W. Bush decided that refurbishing the Ring Road on a yeehaw schedule in 2003 would show Afghans how things were done the American way. Well, it did. The highway is infamous for its poor construction and extravagant price.”

It’s that kind of book. It reminds us of Peter Van Buren’s We Meant Well book on Iraq.

A couple of notes, Chapter 35 titled Embassy includes a nugget about Embassy Kabul refusing to allow the author to meet with SIGAR John Sopko who was also at post, without a minder. Sopko, according to Wissing was furious, demanding a private meeting without embassy handlers but “the diplomats won’t budge.”

Chapter 36 talks about Loss.  A cynical USAID financial officer earlier told the author that “given the amount of money the United States was pushing on the Afghan insiders who were “bankers,” he didn’t blame them for stealing it.” This is in relation to the Bank of Kabul scandal that involved an almost $900 million Ponzi scheme of fraudulent loans. The chapter also talks about Anne Smedinghoff and four other Americans, including three soldiers and an interpreter lost during a suicide attack in Qalat. The author previously meet Smedinghoff during a visit to the embassy compound in Kabul where the latter acted as his minder, assigned to escort him for an interview with a Justice Department official who was working the Afghan Threat Finance Cell (ATFC).

The author told us that he find audiences in the U.S. are often surprised to learn that Afghanistan remains our largest foreign military engagement–$44 billion requested for FY 2017 (vs $5 billion for Syria) “to add to the trillion dollars already wasted.” He also notes that around 10,000 US troops are still there, along with up to 26,000 defense contractors.

We’re posting an excerpt of the book courtesy of Amazon Kindle/Preview:

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Interagency People to SIGAR: Hit the road John and don’t you come back no more, no more, no more …

Posted: 2:26 am PT
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Last year, the NYT covered SIGAR’s John Sopko.

This past Labor Day, there was this big splash, quite an effort here from a dozen or so folks from three agencies:

Detractors describe Sopko as “egomaniacal,” “petty,” “a bully” and “the Donald Trump of inspectors general.” But Sopko has publicly brushed off — even relished — the criticism, arguing that it’s his job to shine a light on mistakes made by “bureaucrats” who would prefer that his reports “be slipped in a sealed envelope in the dead of night under the door — never to see the light of day.”

“My job is to call balls and strikes,” Sopko once told NBC News. “Nobody likes the ump.”

Here’s SIGAR Sopko previously discussing his media strategy:

Then here’s one view from Afghanistan:

John F. Sopko was appointed Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction on July 2, 2012 by President Obama. In his last congressional post, Mr. Sopko was Chief Counsel for Oversight and Investigations for the House Committee on Energy and Commerce, chaired by Rep. John D. Dingell (D-Mich.), during the 110th Congress.

In the fall of 2010, a bi-partisan group of senators and POGO called for the removal of Mr. Sopko’s predecessor. At that time, POGO reported that “the SIGAR office has largely been considered a disappointment, and numerous deficiencies in its operations and audit reports have been identified.” The POGO investigator also said at that time that the “office has produced milk-toast audits that have not inspired congressional confidence.”  In January 2011, the previous inspector, Arnold Fields, a retired Marine major general, resigned, per WaPo “after a review by the Council of Inspectors General found that many of his office’s audits barely met minimum quality standards and that Fields had not laid out a clear strategic vision.”

In accordance with Government Auditing Standards, SIGAR is required to undergo a periodic external quality control review (peer review). SIGAR’s latest peer review, which was conducted by the Council of Inspectors General on Integrity and Efficiency (CIGIE) was publicly released on March 30, 2016:

The NASA Office of Inspector General reviewed the system of quality control for the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) Auditing Division in effect for fiscal year 2015. As indicated in our February 25, 2016, report, we assigned SIGAR a “pass” rating. During our review, we found three issues that were not of sufficient significance to affect our opinion on this rating but that require your attention. We believe these issues could be addressed through simple revisions to the policy manual.

So SIGAR was reviewed by IG peers and got a pass rating!  Imagine that.

Mr. Sopko’s deputy famously said once,“Some people are unhappy with the fact we get press coverage, even though our two-person press shop pales in comparison to the squadrons of PR people at Embassy Kabul, ISAF, or DOD. Some people think we’re doing this to attract attention and gratify our egos. They are mistaken. Neither John nor I are angling for another government job, movie role, book advance, or trying to become the next YouTube sensation.”

We should note that when we request information from SIGAR, we always get a response. When we request information from US Embassy Kabul, our emails just get swallowed by black holes of indifference.

 

Related item:

Letter of Comment on the System of Quality Control for the Audit Organization of the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (PDF) March 2016

 

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(S.1635) Sec. 604. Protecting the Integrity of Internal Investigations #DOSAA16

Posted: 12:44 am PT
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S.1635 Department of State Operations Authorization and Embassy Security Act, Fiscal Year 2016 passed the Senate by unanimous consent on April 28, 2016. (See Whoa! Senate Passes @StateDept Operations Authorization and Embassy Security Act, FY2016).  The House needs to pass it as well, and we haven’t been able to find the House bill.  However, on April 29, the Senate did send a message to the House requesting its concurrence to the FY16 authorization bill.  The bill is currently held at the desk for floor action; it doesn’t look like the House will be back in session until May 10.

Read the bill via congressional record in PDF or as TEXT here. Below is the section on protecting the integrity of internal investigations and reporting requirements from State Department bureaus, posts and offices to the Office of Inspector General. Note the provisions on investigations as they relate to the Bureau of Diplomatic Security:

 

SEC. 604. PROTECTING THE INTEGRITY OF INTERNAL INVESTIGATIONS.

Section 209(c)(5) of the Foreign Service Act of 1980 (22 U.S.C. 3929(c)(5)) is amended by inserting at the end the following new subparagraph:

“(C) Required reporting of allegations and investigations and inspector general authority.–

“(i) In general.–Each bureau, post or other office (in this subparagraph, an `entity’) of the Department of State shall, within five business days, report to the Inspector General any allegations of–

“(I) waste, fraud, or abuse in a Department program or operation;

“(II) criminal or serious misconduct on the part of a Department employee at the FS-1, GS-15, GM-15 level or higher;

“(III) criminal misconduct on the part of any Department employee; and

“(IV) serious, noncriminal misconduct on the part of any individual who is authorized to carry a weapon, make arrests, or conduct searches, such as conduct that, if proved, would constitute perjury or material dishonesty, warrant suspension as discipline for a first offense, or result in loss of law enforcement authority.

“(ii) Inspector general authority.–The Inspector General may, pursuant to existing authority, investigate matters covered by clause (i).

“(iii) Limitation on investigations outside of office of inspector general.–No entity in the Department of State with concurrent jurisdiction over matters covered by clause (i), including the Bureau of Diplomatic Security, may initiate an investigation of such matter unless it has first reported the allegations to the Inspector General as required by clause (i), except as provided in clause (v) and (vi).

“(iv) Cooperation.–If an entity in the Department of State initiates an investigation of a matter covered in clause (i) the entity must, except as provided in clause (v), fully cooperate with the Inspector General, including–

“(I) by providing to the Inspector General all data and records obtained in connection with its investigation upon request of the Inspector General;

“(II) by coordinating, at the request of the Inspector General, such entity’s investigation with the Inspector General; and

“(III) by providing to the Inspector General requested support in aid of the Inspector General’s oversight and investigative responsibilities.

“(v) Exceptions.–The Inspector General may prescribe general rules under which any requirement of clause (iii) or clause (iv) may be dispensed with.

“(vi) Exigent circumstances.–Compliance with clauses (i), (iii), and (iv) of this subparagraph may be dispensed with by an entity of the Department of State if complying with them in an exigent circumstance would pose an imminent threat to human life, health or safety, or result in the irretrievable loss or destruction of critical evidence or witness testimony, in which case a report of the allegation shall be made not later than 48 hours after an entity begins an investigation under the authority of this clause and cooperation required under clause (iv) shall commence not later than 48 hours after the relevant exigent circumstance has ended.

“(vii) Rule of construction.–Nothing in this subparagraph may be interpreted to affect any duty or authority of the Inspector General under any provision of law, including the Inspector General’s duties or authorities under the Inspector General Act.”.

The bill’s other provisions related to the OIG and SIGAR are below:

Sec. 602. Competitive hiring status for former employees of the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction.
Sec. 603. Assurance of independence of IT systems.

Sec. 604. Protecting the integrity of internal investigations.

Sec. 605. Report on Inspector General inspection and auditing of Foreign Service posts and bureaus and operating units Department of State.

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US Mission Afghanistan Contractor Survives Taliban Car Bomb, Takes Photo, Quits Job, Goes on Reddit

Posted: 2:19 pm EDT
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On January 4, two attacks were directed at USG personnel in Afghanistan (see US Embassy Kabul: January 4 Attacks Target USG Employees at Camp Sullivan).  On January 5, the “I survived this yesterday, took a photo and then quit my job” thread went live on Reddit with user DanDalVlan, an Air Traffic Controller contractor in Afghanistan who survived the VBIED attack of a USG site near the Karzai International Airport.

He opened his Reddit thread with “Make money, they said. See the world, they said. It’ll be fun, they said.”

[–]DanDalVlan[S] 1706 points 1 day ago 

It was worth it, at first.  Even after the first attack I went through, it was worth it. After this, though? Nope. Big fucking nope. My entire room imploded around me in a surreal blur of glass and brick. If I had been standing instead of laying in bed, I wouldn’t be typing this. permalink

[–]DanDalVlan[S] 4895 points 1 day ago* 

Sorry, I forgot to put the story up. I was living at the compound that got attacked by a Taliban VBIED (Vehicle-Borne Improvised Explosive Device) that was inside of a very large truck. It rendered our compound pretty much useless. Luckily, we had no fatalities with mostly minor injuries (myself included). 

I was working as an Air Traffic Controller out there. The country of Afghanistan doesn’t have the infrastructure to control their own air traffic, so it is contracted out and I was one of those contractors.

Edit I’m editing this just to say that I’m falling behind on answering questions, but I’ll answer them as soon as I can.

2nd Edit I’m officially failing in my attempts to answer questions and reply as fast as they come in. Sorry if I have missed anyone.

3rd Edit I’ve tried replying to all the questions I could find. I’ve gotta stop now though so I can pack my dirty and glass-covered clothes and get on this flight out of here. I’ll try to respond more when I land. permalink

He was asked about how successful the Taliban has been in attempting to influence the region.

[–]DanDalVlan[S] 3171 points 1 day ago

I’ll be honest, I’m not a very good source when it comes to that type of information. We live a VERY sheltered life. We go from secure facility to secure facility, with absolutely zero time spent amongst the local nationals. Unless things like this happen, we hear about stuff at about the same pace as the rest of the world, and with the same twists and biases. Sorry I couldn’t be more help. permalink

He was asked if entertainment is imported?

[–]DanDalVlan[S] 250 points 1 day ago

Yes, luckily we were still able to get mail. I had quite the collection of board games that my friends and I would play. Then there’s internet/youtube, it’s extremely slow, but better than nothing.permalink

[–]DanDalVlan[S] 261 points 1 day ago

We had booze.I’ll just leave it at that. permalink

He was asked about his Top Ten Favorite Boardgames.

[–]DanDalVlan[S] 2 points 22 hours ago

Top 10 in no particular order: 1. Smash Up 2. Revolution 3. Catan 4. Ticket to Ride 5. Kingdom Death: Monster 6. Risk Legacy 7. Betrayal at House on the Hill 8. Rebellion 9. Munchkin 10. Dixit. I don’t usually like games that are “work together” games. They can usually just be played single player and they usually end up with one person “in charge” anyways. permalink

Another user said his relative was in Afghanistan as an air traffic controller about 5 years ago and didn’t think he ever ran into anything such as this though. permalink

[–]DanDalVlan[S] 102 points1 day ago

It’s been getting slowly worse ever since the “official” pullout last year. Usually the winter time is the quietest time since it’s very cold. This year, however, they have been unexpectedly active. permalink

One Reddit user write the question in the American public’s mind: what we are are trying to achieve in a country long known as the graveyard of empires.  “How will Afghanistan come to control their own air traffic in the future if US contractors are doing it all? Is there movement towards Afghanis ever taking it over? Is the US working towards that end, or is this about supplying Americans with jobs? I’m trying to understand what it is we’re trying to achieve there.”

[–]DanDalVlan[S] 58 points1 day ago

Short answer is yes, we are working towards that. We are currently training a handful of Afghanis. However, they have to learn English as well as all the complicated rules governing ATC. They will not be completely taking over anywhere in the foreseeable future. permalink

He was asked how close he was to the VBIED that blow up the compound”

[–]DanDalVlan[S] 150 points 1 day ago

My room was the closest room to it for our building. Probably about 200 feet.permalink

Somebody wanted to know if the bomb ruptured his ear drums?

[–]DanDalVlan[S] 26 points 23 hours ago

No, I kind of felt it coming before anything else and I opened my mouth to avoid having my eardrums pop. permalink

Another user cited a most appropriate use of this video: NSFW Lyrics

[–]DanDalVlan[S] 181 points 1 day ago

That was absolutely amazing and almost entirely accurate. The only difference being that I didn’t really have much of anything left to grab. I’m just glad I have renter’s insurance. permalink

[–]DanDalVlan[S] 122 points1 day ago

I have my ID and passport and some clothes. Everything else is pretty much toast. I’m most sad about my boardgame collection.

He was asked if it is “good pay for risking your neck?”

[–]DanDalVlan[S] 193 points1 day ago

It was before, now it’s not even close. To be clear, the pay didn’t change, my perspective did. permalink

One Reddit user says, “I haven’t seen this mentioned yet, but your still probably in shock from it all, but remember, PTSD is real. I strongly recommend, when you are ready, a therapist. Someone who you can brain dump it all out. Everyone handles near death experiences differently. I was a medic, and addict/alcoholic, and I am one of those whom never got help, and it nearly killed me. I don’t mean to impose any fear or anxiety on you, I just say from personal experience.”

[–]DanDalVlan[S] 11 points21 hours ago

That’s actually why I did this. So I could share and talk about it.permalink

The Reddit post was submitted on January 5.  It currently has 2605 comments, and 5,867 points (96% upvoted). The photo submitted in the aftermath of the attack is here.

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According to SIGAR, since 2004, FAA—primarily through the Office of the Transportation Counselor at the U.S. Embassy in Kabul—has received $56.5 million from State and USAID to train Afghan civil aviation personnel, assist the Ministry of Transport and Civil Aviation in developing its regulatory regime, and improve Kabul International Airport’s infrastructure and services. There’s more:

Due to difficulties associated with developing Afghan capacity for managing the civil aviation system, FAA officials and coalition forces concluded that effective future operation of Afghan airspace would require the development of a third-party contract for providing airspace management services. Accordingly, in 2013, FAA and coalition forces assisted MOTCA in preparing a contract that included provisions requiring the contractor to train Afghan personnel, similar to the structure of the Afghan-centric aviation security contract.
[…]
The United States planned to transition airspace management responsibilities back to the Afghans at the end of 2014, but, partly due to a lack of certified air traffic controllers, that did not occur.[…] Due to the potential for air service disruption, the Department of State funded an interim, DOD-managed contract for $29.5 million to provide the services through September 2015. If a follow-on contract is not awarded before this contract expires, the United States could be called on to fund another interim contract.

 

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

Posted: 1:01 am EDT
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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: https://www.sigar.mil/pdf/special%20projects/SIGAR-16-2-SP.pdf 

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State Dept to Renovate Kabul’s Pol-i-Charkhi (PIC) Prison. Again.

Posted: 2:52 am EDT
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The State Department has issued a Pre-Solicitation Notice of the Government’s intent to issue a solicitation for the renovation of Pol-i-Charkhi (PIC) Prison in Kabul, Afghanistan.  The project includes renovations in Blocks 1, 2 & 3 and extensive infrastructure and satellite structure improvements to the facility.  Actual solicitation documents are only accessible using the restricted portion of www.fbo.gov, so we have not been able to read the details of this renovation.

This is, however, the same prison which is the subject of an October 2014 SIGAR report, Pol-i-Charkhi Prison: After 5 Years and $18.5 Million, Renovation Project Remains Incomplete (pdf) This is Afghanistan’s largest correctional facility, funded in its initial construction by the Soviet Union in 1973.  It is designed for approximately 5,000 prisoners but housed nearly 7,400 during SIGAR’s inspection last year. Extract below from the SIGAR report:

Screen Shot 2015-09-29

  • In June 2009, in response to damage caused by 35 years of neglect, Soviet occupation, and warfare, the Department of State’s Regional Procurement Support Office (RPSO) awarded an INL-funded renovation contract to W (AWCC)—an Afghan firm—for $16.1 million. Following two modifications, the contract’s overall value increased to $20.2 million.
  • In November 2010, the RPSO terminated AWCC’s INL-funded renovation contract at the government’s convenience based on unsatisfactory performance.4 Following contract termination, INL awarded Batoor Construction Company—an Afghan company—a $250,000 contract to document AWCC’s work completed under the renovation contract.
  • More than 5 years after work began, renovation of Pol-i-Charkhi prison has not been completed, and the contract has been terminated for convenience. Following the RPSO’s termination of the INL-funded contract in November 2010, Batoor Construction Company reviewed and documented AWCC’s work completed under the renovation contract. In March 2011, Batoor reported that AWCC completed approximately 50 percent of the required renovation work. Batoor’s report also noted multiple instances of defective workmanship including the lack of backfilling of trenches, not repairing/replacing broken fixtures, lack of proper roof flashing and gutters, and soil settlement issues. For example, the report noted that there were no metal flashing or gutters installed on one of the prison blocks resulting in damage to surface paint and moisture penetration in supporting walls.
  • We conducted our prison inspection on April 19, 2014, but were limited by the fact that the renovation work had been completed more than 3 years prior to our site visit. We found that the prison holding areas had been reconfigured into maximum, medium, and minimum security cells, and the cells contained the required sinks and toilets. Our inspection of the renovated industries building and kitchen facilities did not disclose any major deficiencies. We also found that AWCC procured and installed the six back-up power diesel generators, as required by the contract. However, the generators cannot be used because they were not hooked-up to the prison’s electric power grid before the renovation contract was terminated. INL officials told us that the work necessary to make the generators operational—primarily installing paired transformers—will be done under the planned follow-on renovation contract, which they hope to begin in late 2014 or early 2015.
  • INL officials told us they anticipated an award of a follow-on contract by the spring of 2015 to complete the renovation work initiated in 2009 and a separate contract to construct a wastewater treatment plant. They estimated the renovation work would cost $11 million; the wastewater treatment plant, $5 million.
  • On November 5, 2010, the contracting officer issued a Stop Work Order which noted that AWCC’s performance was deemed unsatisfactory due to its lack of progress on the project, labor unrest at the work site, and a lack of supplies to maintain efficient progress. Then, on November 26, 2012, the RPSO contracting officer issued AWCC a termination for convenience letter.
  • After a 2-year negotiation that concluded in December 2012, RPSO agreed to an $18.5 million settlement with AWCC—92 percent of the $20.2 million contract value. RPSO agreed to the settlement despite INL and Batoor reports showing that AWCC only completed about 50 percent of the work required under the contract. The contracting officer who negotiated the settlement for the U.S. government told us that the final award amount reflected actual incurred costs and not any specific completion rate. The contracting officer noted that an RPSO contract specialist and an Afghan COR10 assisted her in lengthy negotiations with AWCC and joined her for the final round of discussions in Istanbul, Turkey, which concluded with the signed settlement agreement.
  • Although the contracting officer was able to execute some oversight and issue clear warnings to AWCC regarding its performance, INL’s oversight efforts were compromised by a U.S. employee who served as the COR for the AWCC renovation contract as well as the Basirat design and project monitoring contract. The COR served in this capacity until May 2010, when he was suspended after INL and State’s Office of Inspector General found that he had accepted money from Basirat to promote the company’s interests. The COR was convicted and sentenced by a U.S. District Court for accepting illegal gratuities from Basirat.9 As a result, in August 2010, State suspended Basirat from receiving any government contracts. In August 2010, State also suspended AWCC from receiving government contracts based on receiving confidential proposal information from Basirat concerning State solicitations.
  • The contracting officer added that during these final negotiations the COR [contracting officer’s representative] concurred with many of the contractor’s assertions. In June 2013, just 6 months later, the COR’s designation was suspended amid concerns that he may have colluded with another INL contractor, an issue discussed in our May 2014 inspection report on Baghlan prison.11 As noted in that report, INL suspected this COR of enabling a contractor to substitute inferior products and materials, failing to discover substandard construction, approving questionable invoices, and certifying that all contract terms had been met at the time of project turnover to INL even though construction deficiencies remained. The COR resigned in August 2013. SIGAR investigators are currently conducting an inquiry to determine whether the contractor or other U.S. government officials were complicit in these alleged activities.

So  —  the previous contractor collected an $18.5 million settlement,  92 percent of the $20.2 million contract? But it only did 50 percent of the work required under the contract? Maybe we should all move to Kabul and be contractors?

And now, there will be a new $16M contract?  Which will have modifications, of course, and will not really top off at $16M.

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Related items:

Here’s what it looks like in Afghanistan’s largest — and still incomplete — prison (WaPo)

America’s Unfinished Prison in Afghanistan Is a Filthy Nightmare (Medium)

 

 

Reading Tips: Recent Reports From State/OIG, USAID/OIG, SIGAR, GAO, CRS

Posted: 12:40 pm EDT
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State/OIG

Management Assistance Report: Action Still Needed to Update the Department’s Standards of Conduct as They Relate to Trafficking in Persons and to Comply with a Related Recommendation Posted On: September 17, 2015

Audit of Selected Nonproliferation and Disarmament Fund Management Control Posted On: September 14, 2015

Audit of Department of State Management and Oversight of Non-Lethal Assistance Provided for the Syrian Crisis Posted On: September 14, 2015

 

USAID/OIG

09/16/2015Management Letter Regarding Environmental Concerns Identified During the Survey of Selected USAID/Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance Programs in Iraq

09/15/20158-OPC-15-002-P Audit of Overseas Private Investment Corporation Projects in Jordan and Turkey

09/11/2015A-IAF-15-008-P Audit of the Inter-American Foundation’s Fiscal Year 2015 Compliance with the Federal Information Security Management Act of 2002, as Amended

09/10/20159-000-15-004-P Audit of USAID’s Evaluation Policy Implementation

09/03/20155-482-15-007-P | Audit of USAID/Burma’s Shae THOT (The Way Forward) Program

09/01/2015 4-000-15-001-S | Survey of USAID’s Development Leadership Initiative in Southern and Eastern Africa

 

SIGAR

Remarks Prepared for Delivery by Special Inspector General John F. Sopko at Georgetown University, Washington, DC Thursday, September 10, 2015

Afghan Refugees and Returnees: Corruption and Lack of Afghan Ministerial Capacity Have Prevented Implementation of a Long-term Refugee Strategy Thursday, August 27, 2015

Power Grid Project at the Counter Narcotics Strip Mall in Kabul: Construction Met Contract Requirements but Electrical System Was Not Deemed Operable Until More Than 18 Months After Project Completion Monday, August 3, 2015

 

GAO

Diplomatic Security: Options for Locating a Consolidated Training Facility  GAO-15-808R: Published: Sep 9, 2015. Publicly Released: Sep 16, 2015.

Regionally Aligned Forces: DOD Could Enhance Army Brigades’ Efforts in Africa by Improving Activity Coordination and Mission-Specific Preparation  GAO-15-568: Published: Aug 26, 2015. Publicly Released: Aug 26, 2015.

SEC Conflict Minerals Rule: Initial Disclosures Indicate Most Companies Were Unable to Determine the Source of Their Conflict Minerals  GAO-15-561: Published: Aug 18, 2015. Publicly Released: Aug 18, 2015.

International Food Assistance: USAID Should Systematically Assess the Effectiveness of Key Conditional Food Aid Activities  GAO-15-732: Published: Sep 10, 2015. Publicly Released: Sep 10, 2015.

 

CRS Reports via Steven Aftergood/Secrecy News

The FY2014 Government Shutdown: Economic Effects, updated September 11, 2015

Procedures for Congressional Action in Relation to a Nuclear Agreement with Iran: In Brief, Updated September 11, 2015

The United Arab Emirates (UAE): Issues for U.S. Policy, Updated September 14, 2015

Syrian Refugee Admissions to the United StatesCRS Insight, September 10, 2015

Cyprus: Reunification Proving Elusive, Updated September 10, 2015

Saudi Arabia: Background and U.S. Relations, Updated September 8, 2015

Jordan: Background and U.S. Relations, Updated September 10, 2015

Iran Nuclear Agreement, Updated September 9, 2015

Statutory Qualifications for Executive Branch Positions, Updated September 9, 2015

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

Posted: 1:16 am  PDT
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Excerpt:

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.
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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.
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Last week, we were looking for clinics.

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

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Short and boring lives of the G222 Planes in Kabul — from $486M to scrap at 6 cents a pound!

— Domani Spero
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We’re late on this, but last week, SIGAR released two letters to Secretary Hagel and to Air Force Secretary Deborah L. James concerning the  failed G222 aircraft program for the Afghan Air Force.

Starting in 2008, DOD apparently initiated a program to provide 20 of these Italian-made aircraft to the Afghan Air Force.   The Defense Department spent $486 million for these airplanes, which according to the SIGAR, “could not meet operational requirements in Afghanistan.” Sixteen of these aircraft were recently destroyed at Kabul International Airport,  scrapped by the Defense Logistics Agency, and the remains were sold to an Afghan construction company for about $32,000 total.  SIGAR calculates that the scrap was sold at roughly 6 cents a pound. The remaining four airplanes are reportedly stored at Ramstein Air Base in Germany, presumably to help fight the Taliban at some later date?

Here are the $486 million airplanes you paid for:

Photo via SIGAR

Photo via SIGAR

 Here are the scrapped beauties at 6 cents a pound:

Screen Shot 2014-10-15

Photo via SIGAR

Screen Shot 2014-10-15

Here are the links to the letters:
http://www.sigar.mil/pdf/special%20projects/SIGAR-15-04-SP_IL_G222%20Disposition%20Notf%20Req_03Oct2014_Redacted.pdf

http://www.sigar.mil/pdf/special%20projects/SIGAR-15-02-SP_IL_Scrapping%20of%20G222%20Fleet_03Oct2014_amd_Redacted.pdf

According to Defense Industry Daily:

The G.222/C-27A was not known as an easy aircraft to maintain, but it does feature outstanding short runway performance, and offers proven performance in hot weather and high altitudes. That seemed to make it well-suited for work in Afghanistan. Was it well suited to the Afghans?

That would depend on whether the Afghans could keep them in the air. The USAF tried to address the spares and maintenance issue through the program’s structure, paying for extensive training through the US military, an initial spare parts inventory, ground support equipment, technical publications in English and Dari, and 3 years worth of contractor logistics support.

But it didn’t work.

These are not the only aircraft DOD purchased for the Afghan Air Force. Defense Industry Daily has a rundown of the timeline and the contracts here.

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SIGAR: Not angling for another gov job, movie role, book advance or to be next YouTube hottie

Domani Spero
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“Unless a piece of information is legitimately classified or otherwise restricted, it ought to be available, even if disclosure is not technically required. And, when disclosure is legally required, as by the IG Act, then agency refusal to provide timely access to the data is intolerable.” — DIG Gene Aloise, SIGAR 

 

Patrol Boat Purchased for the Afghan National Police (SIGAR photo)

A BOAT, A BOAT! Patrol Boat Purchased for the Afghan National Police (SIGAR photo)

A couple of days ago, Gene Aloise, the Deputy Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) was at the CIGIE Federal Audit Executive Council Annual Conference in Virginia and gave a speech on “Transparency—For the IGs and the Public Interest.” He was standing in for John Sopko, the IG, who apparently is still recovering from knee surgery.  Excerpt below:

You may have noticed that many SIGAR reports have made the news. One reason is that we publish, post, tweet, and otherwise publicize virtually everything we do.

Some people are unhappy with the fact we get press coverage, even though our two-person press shop pales in comparison to the squadrons of PR people at Embassy Kabul, ISAF, or DOD. Some people think we’re doing this to attract attention and gratify our egos.

They are mistaken. Neither John nor I are angling for another government job, movie role, book advance, or trying to become the next YouTube sensation.

We simply follow the basic principles that: (1) unless it’s a security risk or classified, we publish it; and(2) if it’s worth publishing, it’s worth publicizing.

We seek publicity because publicity has impact.

Very few Americans have seen the Health and Human Services Department IG reports on billing fraud against Medicare for motorized wheelchairs. But millions of people have had the chance to read, in print or online, the Washington Post’s 4,000-word illustrated story on August 16 that dramatized and humanized the problem.

The Post noted that Medicare has paid out more than $8 billion for motorized wheelchairs for 2.7 million people, even though a large but unknown portion of the payments involved offers of free wheelchairs, recruitment of people with no mobility problems, and prescriptions faked by corrupt doctors or even by scammers using the names of dead doctors.

That’s the kind of story that gets attention. Editorial writers, ordinary citizens, congressional staff, and think-tank researchers pick up on such revelations and weigh in. Members of Congress call hearings and draft legislation. Agency heads eagerly or reluctantly draft responses, policies, and testimony. With any luck, things get better, whether systematically or a bit at a time.

Let’s face it: No matter how good an IG audit, GAO report, or commission finding may be, if it falls into a black hole and molders unnoticed while Washington bustles on, it helps no one.

Widespread dissemination of IG reports can promote the following good outcomes:

  • Publicity brings problems to the attention of senior leaders whose information gatekeepers may not have relayed unwelcome news.
  • Exposing incidents of waste can motivate people to do the right thing, whether sharpening their own performance or calling out problems.
  • Publicity may prompt managers to take corrective action before they get a nasty memo from the boss.
  • Publicity can deter government contractors from cutting corners, using substandard materials, or tolerating unsafe practices if they fear they may not get paid, or be debarred.
  • Publicity can deter fraud. When potential wrongdoers read about a federal civilian, military member, or contractor going to jail and paying big fines for taking kickbacks or bribes, or stealing, or smuggling, they may decide not to give in to temptation.
  • Publicity can encourage people to come forward to the IG community. Some of our best tips and other information have come from senior officials, including generals and ambassadors, who approach us here or in the field, or use the SIGAR fraud hotline.
  • Publicity that points out successes and best practices can encourage agencies to continue improving their own performance, or to follow the example others have set.
  • Finally, and perhaps most importantly, publicizing our work gives the American taxpayer—and congressional appropriators—confidence that someone appointed by the President of the United States is looking out for how their money is spent.

As our friends in the armed services would say, publicity is a force multiplier for the substantive results of your hard work.

When you turn up an important finding that involves serious threats to mission, to lives, to public funds, or the public interest, don’t be shy about spreading the word beyond the usual channels of distribution. It’s legitimate, it’s helpful, and—even if some officials get peeved at you— it’s a public service.

Read the whole thing here.

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