IG: Afghan reconstruction efforts in big trouble

Tuesday - 1/25/2011, 3:20pm EST

From "IG says weak planning puts Afghan projects at risk" on FederalNewsRadio.com:

Poor planning and weak management are undermining the effort to build up the Afghan army and police while putting billions of U.S tax dollars at risk, the U.S. official charged with overseeing the rebuilding of Afghanistan said Monday.

Arnold Fields, the special inspector general for Afghanistan reconstruction, told the Commission on Wartime Contracting it is not clear how U.S. military authorities are going to construct enough bases and training facilities by late 2013, when the Afghan forces are supposed to assume responsibility for the country's security.

There are 884 projects valued at $11.4 billion planned for completion over the next two years, but as of November only 133 have been finished, Fields told the commission, which was created by Congress to examine spending in Afghanistan and Iraq. Another 78 are under construction and 673 have not been started, he said.

Fields, who announced his resignation earlier this month, said the U.S. doesn't have a comprehensive plan that sets priorities, maximizes resources and tracks with the Afghan government's needs. He also said the projects his office has audited so far "have been seriously behind schedule." That makes it doubtful construction will keep pace with the goal of recruiting and training 240,000 Afghan soldiers and 160,000 Afghan police.

There are also troubling questions about how the Afghans will be able to maintain this network of security force bases and facilities without continuing financial assistance from the U.S., he said.

"These issues place the entire U.S. investment of $11.4 billion in facilities construction at risk of not meeting Afghan needs or intended purposes and resulting in a large degree of waste," Fields said.

Maj. Gen. Jeffrey Dorko, deputy commander of the Army Corps of Engineers, told the commission that violence and corruption in Afghanistan are the primary reasons for schedule delays and cost overruns. He also said the Corps continues to face challenges in finding enough qualified people to properly oversee all of the work being done.

Fields steps down Feb. 4. He has not said why he decided to resign two and half years after President George W. Bush appointed him to the watchdog post. He had been under fire from a small but vocal group of critics on Capitol Hill, who had been urging President Barack Obama to dismiss him for incompetence and mismanagement. They claimed Fields, a retired Marine Corps major general, failed to aggressively oversee the more than $56 billion the U.S. has poured into Afghanistan since 2002 for reconstruction projects.

Fields also told the commission that his office is examining a decision by the U.S. Agency for International Development to award a no-bid, $266 million contract for electric work in southern Afghanistan to a company the agency had previously criticized for cost overruns and missed deadlines.

USAID made the award late last year to Black & Veatch Corp. of Overland Park, Kan., despite an earlier promise to seek competitive bids. A rival company that was interested in bidding, Symbion Power LLC of Washington, D.C., said USAID spent more than it should to expand electricity into Helmand and Kandahar provinces.

Alex Thier, director of USAID's office of Afghanistan and Pakistan affairs, testified after Fields and defended the selection of Black & Veatch. He said the project had to be done quickly to support U.S. counterinsurgency goals in southern Afghanistan and Black & Veatch had people and equipment already in place in Kandahar. Black & Veatch had made a number of organizational changes that "dramatically" improved its performance, Thier added, convincing USAID the company would do the work on schedule and within budget.

But members of the commission challenged the selection. Commissioner Robert Henke questioned whether the urgency of the project drove USAID to select a contractor with a record of problems.

I played highlights of the testimony and questions for General Fields on the show today; tomorrow I'll have testimony from the Army Corps of Engineers, the Air Force Center for Engineering and the Environment, and the State Department.

Click "play" to watch the hearing.



UPDATE: I played highlights of the second panel, including the testimony on the Black & Veatch contract, on the show today (Wednesday). You can watch the entire second panel by clicking "play".