U.S. to Lose Oversight of Afghanistan Reconstruction Projects worth Billions

Wednesday, October 30, 2013
U S reconstruction project in Afghanistan (AP Photo)

As the United States draws down its military forces from Afghanistan, American inspectors will lose the necessary protection to visit reconstruction projects paid for with U.S. tax dollars. This development will result in the government not overseeing infrastructure changes worth billions of dollars, leading to possibly more waste and corruption in a country plagued by such problems.

 

Once the U.S. removes its remaining 40,000 troops from Afghanistan, only about 20% of the country will be accessible to U.S. government overseers, according to the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR).

 

The Obama administration, though, has decided to continue with numerous road and building projects. Officials believe that using private contractors instead of SIGAR auditors to monitor the projects—which are being built by other contractors—will suffice.

 

The Pentagon will also be relying on the Afghan government to keep track of how U.S. funds are being spent. “We’ve told them that it’s incumbent on them to be good stewards of the resources given to them,” a senior U.S. defense official told The Washington Post. No comment was made regarding the history of corruption on the part of the Afghan government.

 

The Department of State, the Pentagon, and the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), which is financing some of the projects, plan to also use satellite photos and “crowdsourcing” experiments to keep track of the work being done. USAID, along with the Army Corps of Engineers, will be relying on private contractors to monitor its various projects.

 

However, Afghans who would likely be employed by the contractors to engage in field work could be put at risk. “It’s difficult even for Afghans to inspect some of these projects,” a U.S. reconstruction specialist told the Post. “If they’re walking around with a camera and a notebook, they’ll draw attention to themselves as someone connected with Western money.”

 

Some members of Congress are not confident in the administration’s oversight plan going forward.

 

“I would be shocked if this doesn’t have an unhappy ending,” Senator Claire McCaskill (D-Missouri) told the Post. “They are kissing oversight goodbye.”

 

The Post determined that there are at least 15 major reconstruction initiatives costing more than $1 billion that SIGAR will not be able to oversee beginning next year.

 

Travel limitations placed on SIGAR inspectors are already causing concern. Infrastructure projects in northern Afghanistan, holding a combined worth of $72 million, cannot currently be accessed by the agency “because they are located in areas that could not be reached by U.S. civilian employees,” SIGAR chief John Sopko wrote in a letter to Secretary of State John F. Kerry and Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel.

-Noel Brinkerhoff, Danny Biederman

 

To Learn More:

After Troops Leave, U.S. to Lose Access to Afghan Reconstruction Projects Worth Billions (by Rajiv Chandrasekaran and Scott Higham, Washington Post)

SIGAR Oversight Presence in Afghanistan (Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction) (pdf)

US Troop Drawdown Hinders Oversight of Development Aid in Afghanistan (by Kevin Sieff, The Guardian)

U.S. Wasting Millions in Afghanistan (by Noel Brinkerhoff, AllGov)         

Billions Wasted on Unsustainable Projects in Iraq and Afghanistan (by Noel Brinkerhoff and David Wallechinsky, AllGov)

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