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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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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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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