The Commission on Wartime Contracting in Iraq and Afghanistan held a two panel hearing investigating the recurring problems associated with Afghan construction projects. Witnesses discussed delays, cost overruns and various oversight agencies issues. The projects are focused on providing facilities for the Afghan government and reconstruction and economic development since the anti-Taliban intervention in 2001.
The first panel included Maj. Gen. Arnold Fields, appointed Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) in June 2008, and who will leave government service next month. He testified on his agency’s recent report, which found that inadequate oversight of contractors led to “shoddy construction” of facilities for the Afghan National Police in Kandahar and Helmand.
Maj. Gen. Fields has been under fire since a negative review of his agency was released last summer. Senators on the Homeland Security Subcommittee questioned Mr. Fields in November on the issues raised in the report that seem to support previous assertions that he has been performing poorly in his position as the government’s chief watchdog of contractors in Afghanistan. In response to this criticism, Mr. Fields claimed that the agency had lacked the proper resources to get the job done.
The next panel included federal officials testifying on the oversight of construction and contract management. USAID Afghanistan and Pakistan Affairs director Alexander Thier was grilled about the decision to award a contract to Black Veatch after the organization was criticized for a previous reconstruction project. He was also asked about private security contracts and whether it undermines the Afghan government.
The U.S. government has committed billions of dollars to construction projects in Afghanistan since the anti-Taliban intervention was launched in 2001. Goals include supporting U.S. and allied troops, providing facilities for the Afghan government, reconstructing damaged properties, and promoting economic development. The lead agencies involved are the Department of State, U.S. Agency for International Development, and the Department of Defense, all of whom employ large numbers of contractors.
This hearing is one of several by the Commission examining contracting issues in both Iraq and Afghanistan. It’s expected to issue its final report to Congress in July.