Consensus on Afghanistan: Transitioning to the Afghan Public Protection Force Will Cost More
The Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) was established in 2008 to provide independent and objective oversight of Afghanistan reconstruction projects. Since then, SIGAR has published 49 audits, received 675 hotline complaints, and recovered $51 million in fiscal year 2011 alone. Still, each year billions of U.S. taxpayer dollars are spent in Afghanistan, and we still do not effectively track where, or how much is spent. The latest Afghanistan oversight breakdown is the fracas over Afghanistan USAID security contractor costs.
In August 2010 Afghan President Karzai, responding to fears over the corruption and unchecked power of private security firms, ordered that private security contractors be phased out and replaced by the newly-formed Afghan Public Protection Force (APPF) by March 20, 2012. In preparation for this transition, SIGAR began an investigation into the associated costs.
SIGAR’s initial findings were reported in a March 9th 2012 letter to the USAID Mission Director in Afghanistan. In them they estimated that transitioning to the state-run APPF could cause Afghan labor costs to rise by up to 46%, and expatriate costs by 200%. This brings the potential total expenditure for USAIDs 13 largest reconstruction projects, to $55 million for the first year of transition.
In addition to the concern over cost increases, SIGAR noted that APPF is unprepared to take over. By March of this year, the force was supposed to number 25,000, but only has 6,000. Given APPF’s state of unreadiness, SIGAR estimates that USAID projects valued at nearly $900 million may have to be cancelled because APPF cannot provide adequate security.
USAID, of course, took exception to SIGAR’s findings rejecting “the SIGAR management letter in its entirety due to the inadequate comparisons, speculative assumptions and inaccurate statements.” The result of the dispute was a congressional hearing of the House Committee Oversight and Government Reform Subcommittee on National Security.
Unfortunately, the hearing failed to resolve the dispute, but it did provide some important insight on accountability. According to Acting Inspector General Stephen Trent, “Although AID disagreed with our alert letter, neither AID nor any of the U.S. government agencies involved in Afghanistan’s reconstruction systematically track security costs. No one knows how much the transition to the APPF is going to cost, but all agree it will cost more. ” SIGAR says the increase is anywhere from 25% to 46%. USAID, based on an analysis of 15 projects that have already transitioned, says the number is more like 16%.
The real story here is not about the exact costs. It’s about the fact that no one, from federal agencies to Congress, knows what the costs are.
SIGAR’s original letter explains why pinpointing security costs for Afghanistan reconstruction projects is so difficult:
“Determining security costs is extremely challenging because, as the Government Accountability Office (GAO) pointed out last year, the tracking systems that U.S. government agencies are using do not reliably distinguish security personnel from other contract personnel. USAID does not track security costs…Neither USAID nor its prime contractors have full visibility of the security costs incurred by subcontractors….some implementing partners also hired security guards internally. Their salaries are not included in reported security costs. Consequently, SIGAR’s cost analysis represents the minimum spent on security. Total costs are likely higher.”
Going back to GAO’s assessment, it seems tracking security costs is a long-standing issue. In fact, GAO’s 2011 report was unchanged from 2009, because the agencies had made no progress.
As far as how much we are spending in Afghanistan, and how much is being wasted, we are unlikely to get satisfactory answers anytime soon. Members of Congress like Representative Jason Chaffetz (R-UT), and Senator Claire McCaskill (D-MO) have called for greater oversight, but little has been done to improve accountability of wartime spending. While Congress holds hearings, agencies continue to spend taxpayer dollars in Afghanistan without keeping track of it.
Rep. Chaffetz, chair of the Oversight Subcommittee on National Security, put it best:
“The federal government appears to be incapable, at least thus far, of tracking its expenditures. Time and again, it cannot readily provide data – simple data, such as the amount of money spent; the number of projects completed, the number of projects ongoing; and whether projects are on time, on budget; and whether they were actually completed…
The failure to track this data in real-time demonstrates an extreme lack of oversight. It also tells this Congress that bureaucrats in Washington have little visibility or control (of) the billions of dollars spent overseas.
The American people have little patience for government waste and lack of progress in Afghanistan. After 10 years, we are no closer to defining and achieving success, and Congress and the Obama administration should reassess our future in Afghanistan.”