According to a report by a United States inspector general, the Defense Department spent over $43 million on a natural gas fueling station in Afghanistan – while a similar project cost only $200,000. The report also shows that the Pentagon cannot or will not provide the names of who was responsible for making the decisions behind the wasteful spending.
John Sopko, the inspector general who oversees the United States’ spending on Afghanistan reconstruction, determined that the cost for the energy project was exorbitant and that the project as a whole was “ill-conceived.”
Moreover, Sopko reported that since the Defense Department closed down the Afghanistan business task force responsible for building the project, no one was answering questions regarding the decisions made.
In a letter written by Sopko to United States Defense Secretary Ashton Carter, he stated that, “Frankly, I find it both shocking and incredible that [the Defense Department] asserts that it no longer has any knowledge about [the task force], an $800 million program that reported directly to the Office of the Secretary of Defense and only shut down a little over six months ago.”
Revelations about the waste come at a time when the Pentagon will receive an extra $25 billion in funding for the coming year – as a result of the debt agreement reached by Congress.
The Defense Department has claimed repeatedly that it cannot operate properly without a huge influx of cash.
Interestingly, the very day the House voted to approve the agreement, a military blimp – a billion dollar project – broke free from its station and floated from Maryland to Pennsylvania. It dragged cables with it and and tore down power lines as it floated by without a driver. The blimp eventually deflated on its own.
The incident led to questioning about what the Defense Department was spending its money on.
In the case of the Afghanistan gas station, the goal was to try to convince Afghanistan to use compressed natural gas, which the country has in abundance, rather than relying on fuel imported from elsewhere.
It was created as a project of the Task Force for Business and Stability Operations designed to try to help the Afghan economy recover from Taliban occupation.
But Sopko reports that the task force did not conduct appropriate feasibility studies for its projects. By failing to do so, the task force did not realize that Afghanistan does not have the infrastructure to support the usage of natural gas, thereby making the project a waste from inception. Sopko further pointed out that Afghans could not even afford the necessary conversion equipment to allow their cars to run on natural gas.
The task force went ahead with the project anyway, spending $42,718,739 from 2011 through 2014 to construct and operate the station – despite the fact that the project should have cost only about $200,000.
With respect to paperwork describing the decisions to go ahead with the project, Sopko stated that, “To date, [the Defense Department] has been unable to provide documentation showing why the Sheberghan CNG station cost nearly $43 million.”
Senator Chuck Grassley echoed Sopko’s concerns and stated that, “If those documents don’t exist, that’s a huge problem. The lack of accountability and transparency is disgraceful. The Defense Department needs to come clean, drop the obfuscation and hold people responsible for a colossal waste of tax dollars.”