Monday, August 21, 2017

How Not To Spend U.S. Tax Dollars in Afghanistan

With the conflict in Afghanistan now grinding into its 16th year despite the fact that the war was officially over in 2014 and the Trump Adminstration putting its own spin on Afghanistan's future, recent developments show that taxpayers who have already ponied up $1.07 trillion to put the Taliban "in their place" are spending money on luxury items that they cannot afford themselves.

On August 9, 2017, U.S. Senator Claire Connor McCaskill (D-Missouri), the top ranking Democrat on the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, released information that should cause American taxpayers to have an apoplectic stroke.  According to her press release, Senator McCaskill had demanded answers back in May 2015 when it became apparent that an audit of the money spent in Afghanistan on national reconstruction by the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) was "questionable" and that at least some of the spending on the Afghanistan Infrastructure Fund was unsustainable, recommending that further taxpayer funding be prohibited and that a further investigation of spending be undertaken.  Under this request, the Defense Contract Audit Agency (DCAA) reviewed the "Legacy East" contract, a contract which was given to subcontractor New Century Consulting.  The purpose of the Legacy East project was to provide counterinsurgency exports to mentor and train the Afghan National Security Forces.

According to Senator McCaskill, when the DCAA audited the contract and subcontractor, they found that New Century Consulting had billed the U.S. government for over $50 million in questionable costs including the following:

1.) purchases of seven luxury cars including Porsches, Alfa Romeos, a Bentley, an Aston Martin and a Land Rover

2.) expenditures of $42,000 in cash on automatic weapons and $1500 on alcohol despite regulations or contract provisions that forbade such expenditures.

3.) NCC kept its CEO and CFO on payroll as "executive assistants" at salaries that reached an average of approximately $420,000 in 2012.  According to the press release, these employees worked at home and never travelled to customer locations.  As well, no documentation exists to prove that any work was actually done by the individuals.

According to the latest report by SIGAR, NCC spent $143.3 million on the Afghanistan Source Operations Management (ASOM) training and mentoring program as a subcontractor o Jorge Scientific Corporation.  The report did conclude that NCC "successfully performed the tasks required by the contracts", however, we find that following:

"...CTTSO’s (Combatting Terrorism Technical Support Office) attempts to assess contractor performance relied, in part, on contractor-provided data, such as NCC’s self-assessments created by its mentors and compliance officers. SIGAR reviewed the self-assessments and found that NCC deemed the Legacy and ASOM programs a success, but provided few specifics to support its claim."

Here is a screen capture of New Century's website:

Here is some background information on NCC's executive and management teams:

And, in case you wondered, here is NCC's response to the accusations made by Senator McCaskill:

Here is a quote from the company's letter to Mr. John Sopko, the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction:
"With respect, we regret the general negative tone of the wording in your report, and the way it has portrayed both New Century and the highly professional US Government entities who have managed programmatic delivery, such as ARL and CTTSO. This has led to sensationalized press comment labeling the programs a “failure” when these programs are regarded by all exposed to them in an operational setting as hugely successful and a sound investment by the US Government.

We have always striven to deliver a valuable and cost-effective service in support of what have been (and continues to be) very challenging missions. We are fully aware that if we do not consistently deliver tangible, positive results then our services will no longer be in demand. We are proud that the majority of our work comes from second and subsequent contracts with the same clients, so we are reassured that what we offer is valued, relevant and effective.

Our personnel had deployed in support of Coalition Forces in Afghanistan in a very challenging and hostile environment, initially to a province where some other contractors would not even deploy due to the level of threat. We are disappointed that the audit report has failed to acknowledge the dedication, professionalism and commitment of the mentors and trainers who delivered the programs; or recognize that in their delivery one of our personnel, Ken McGonigle, paid the ultimate sacrifice whilst preventing an RPG attack on an Osprey aircraft carrying Vice-Admiral Robert Harward and his staff. Despite being a contractor, Ken was decorated by the US Government for his bravery and was posthumously awarded the Queen’s Gallantry Medal in the United Kingdom."

Only time will tell if Senator McCaskill's assessment of the New Century Consulting expenditures is correct.  If it proves to be correct, it is yet another prime example of why the war in Afghanistan continues to be among the most costly in history.

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