By NEIL GORDON
"Sustainability" is the topic of the fifth Commission on Wartime Contracting (CWC) special report to Congress, which was just issued last Friday. Now that U.S. taxpayers have spent tens of billions of dollars on reconstruction projects in Iraq and Afghanistan, will those countries be able to successfully sustain those efforts after our troops leave?
The CWC gives us little reason to think so. U.S. troop withdrawals from Afghanistan are scheduled to begin in July, and our military presence in Iraq is scheduled to end by the end of this year. Pointing out that even well-planned and executed projects can easily fall victim to fraud, waste, or abuse if the host country is not ready to take over their operation and maintenance, the CWC offers a dire forecast:
The Commission on Wartime Contracting sees no indication that the Department of Defense, the Department of State, and the U.S. Agency for International Development are making adequate plans to ensure that host nations will be able to operate and maintain U.S.-funded projects on their own…The Commission, inspectors general, and others who have examined the past decade’s wartime contracting in Iraq and Afghanistan have thus far identified tens of billions of dollars of waste that has already occurred. Absent effective counter-measures, those findings could pale in comparison to additional waste developing from unsustainable projects and programs. (emphasis added)
In many cases, according to the report, the opportunity to avoid or mitigate waste from sustainment failure has already passed. In Iraq, U.S. contractors built and equipped 133 health care centers for about $345 million but failed to build the capacity of the Iraqi government to sustain the facilities. In Afghanistan, there is a "white elephant" $300 million power plant that the Afghan government cannot afford to operate on its own. Nor can it afford to maintain the U.S.’s $11.4 billion investment in new facilities for the Afghan national security forces. (Senior U.S. government officials told The Washington Post that having to foot most of the bill for sustaining Afghan forces at a cost of $8 billion a year is still cheaper than keeping U.S. troops over there.)
The CWC’s final hurrah will occur at the end of July when it issues its final report to Congress.
Neil Gordon is a POGO Investigator.