Watchdog says contractor oversight was lacking in Afghanistan

The Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction's newest report calls out the government's failure to oversee contractors as a source of waste, fraud and abuse.

A Chinook helicopter transports equipment around Bagram Airfield, Afghanistan. US Army photo by SGT James Dansie. 01.21.2019

A Chinook helicopter at Bagram Airfield in Afghanistan in 2019. (Photo credit: Sgt. James Dansie / U.S. Army)

As the U.S. presses ahead with its pullout of forces from Afghanistan, a new watchdog report details how the Defense Department's reliance on contractors to fill capability and personnel gaps led to wasteful and fraudulent spending over the course of 20 years of war.

The Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction issued a report Aug. 16 on lessons learned from the war and occupation that has cost $145 billion for rebuilding efforts and $837 billion from DOD on warfighting.

In its report, the SIGAR notes that because much contract work in Afghanistan went unsupervised, it left the government open to waste, fraud and abuse that typically showed up as new, contractor-built facilities [that] had to be repaired or completely rebuilt."

One example of that was the construction of a $2.4 million compound that ultimately couldn't be used because it was built outside the security perimeter of the base that commissioned it. The reason? "Contracting officials attributed the error to a lack of time and personnel needed for oversight," according to the report.

SIGAR cited a 2012 Government Accountability Office report also found that contracting officers often lacked the time and subject area or technical expertise to evaluate new structures.

Those issues were compounded by significant personnel shortages. The SIGAR previously found that "government staff was inadequate to supervise the large number of contractors overseen by DOD, State, and USAID, particularly considering the size of the programs."

DOD engaged contractors for several activities, including building construction linguistics, and maintaining weapons systems, often sending them to locations considered too dangerous for U.S. government employees, according to the report.

The more than 122-page report didn't make any new recommendations for Congress and executive agencies, but reemphasized past suggestions, including creating a database of qualified personnel "to call up when necessary, build interagency doctrine for security sector assistance and establish anti-corruption offices within key agencies."

"The nature and range of the investment necessary to properly prepare for these [reconstruction] campaigns is an open question," the report states.