US Can't Untangle Billions in Bush-Era Afghan Spending

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McClatchy Newspapers

US Can't Untangle Billions in Bush-Era Afghan Spending

by
Marisa Taylor

WASHINGTON
- The U.S. government knows it's awarded nearly $18 billion in
contracts for rebuilding Afghanistan over the last three years, but it
can't account for spending before 2007.

Thousands of firms received wartime contracts,
but the special inspector general for Afghanistan reconstruction found
it too difficult to untangle how billions of additional dollars had been
spent because of the U.S. agencies' poor recordkeeping.

"Navigating
the confusing labyrinth of government contracting is difficult, at
best," the inspector general says in a report that was released
Wednesday.

The finding raises doubts about whether the U.S. government ever
will determine whether taxpayers' money was spent wisely in Afghanistan.

"Data
got better from 2007 on," said Susan Phalen, a spokeswoman with SIGAR,
"but it remains to be seen whether we'll ever know how much U.S.
agencies spent overall."

Overall, the U.S. has set aside about $55
billion for rebuilding Afghanistan, but that includes agencies' budget
for staff salaries, operations and security. SIGAR couldn't parse how
much was spent on contractors alone.

SIGAR recommended that the
Pentagon, the State Department and the U.S. Agency for International
Development create one database to track wartime contracts. As it
stands, the Pentagon has four contracting agencies that oversee
contracts, but none of them is sharing information. SIGAR found a lack
of coordination among all the U.S. agencies that oversee contracting in
Afghanistan, not just the Pentagon.

Meanwhile, a handful of companies received a majority of the contracts, auditors found.

USAID,
for example, awarded almost half of the $2 billion it set aside for
Afghanistan projects to two companies, Louis Berger and Development
Alternatives Inc. Overall, the agency doled out contracts to 214
companies.

Of 6,600 firms that have received contracts from the
Pentagon for Afghanistan, 44 of them received more than half the
military's business there. One contractor, DynCorp International,
accounted for about 75 percent of all the contracts for Afghanistan that
two State Department bureaus awarded.

The military's joint
contracting command acknowledged problems with its tracking, but it told
auditors that it's trying to improve it.

Although the State
Department and USAID received drafts of the report from SIGAR so they
could comment on it, they didn't respond.

The report is the latest
to criticize the U.S.'s handling of contracts in Afghanistan. A SIGAR
audit released Wednesday concluded that six police stations in a
dangerous stretch of southern Afghanistan were so poorly constructed by
the Afghan contractor that they can't be occupied. The U.S. Army Corps
of Engineers didn't detect the problems and paid the firm almost $5
million of the $5.5 million contract price.


ON THE WEB

Special inspector general's report on U.S. spending in Afghanistan

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