Hundreds of millions of American taxpayer dollars have been dumped into one Afghanistan health-care project, but the Obama administration cannot accurately locate 80 percent of the 641 medical facilities built in the endeavor, a special federal investigator says.
Using location information known as “geospatial coordinates” that the U.S. Agency for International Development, or USAID, provided for the audit, inspectors were directed to – among other unverifiable facilities – 13 sites that were not even within Afghanistan.
Indeed, the errant USAID-provided coordinates for one facility led to the Mediterranean Sea.
According to a report released this past week by John F. Sopko, special inspector general for Afghanistan reconstruction, or SIGAR, of the 13 non-Afghan locations, six were in Pakistan and another six were in Tajikistan.
“As of March 2015, USAID had disbursed over $210 million to support Partnership Contracts for Health (PCH) program, which USAID funds through on-budget assistance to the Afghan Ministry of Public Health (MOPH),” Sopko said in a letter to USAID Acting Administrator Alfonso E. Lenhardt.
“The program is intended to support the MOPH’s efforts to deliver basic health services to the Afghan people,” Sopko continued.
In the absence of accurate location information, “confirmation of the physical location and existence of these facilities” is difficult, if not impossible, he said.
“To provide meaningful oversight of these facilities, both USAID and MOPH need to know where they are,” the SIGAR letter emphasized.
USAID must update the data for the Office of SIGAR – data to which, Sopko said in the letter, his office is entitled “pursuant to my authority under Public Law No. 110-181, as amended, and the Inspector General Act of 1978, as amended.”
The agency must provide the requested information or, if necessary, a plan for obtaining it, no later than July 30.
In addition to inaccurate geospatial information that led SIGAR outside of Afghanistan, USAID’s in-country data at times were equally perplexing. For example:
- Coordinates for 30 facilities were located in a province different than the one USAID reported
- In 13 cases, USAID reported two different funded facilities at the same coordinates.
Of the remaining 495 locations, SIGAR “analyzed geospatial imagery to assess whether there was a structure potentially serving as a health facility present.”
Although the inspector succeeded in accurately identifying 152 specific structures or compounds in the reported location:
- 189 showed no physical structure within 400 feet of the reported coordinates;
- A subset of 81, or just under half of the 189 locations, showed no physical structure within a half mile of the reported coordinates
- 154 coordinates did not clearly identify a specific building.
USAID did not issue a response to the latest SIGAR letter, which was dated June 25 and publicly released July 1. The agency’s acting administrator did, however, issue a declaration that week commemorating “Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Intersex (LGBTI) Pride Month 2015.”
“We celebrate the U.S. Supreme Court decision that the love two people commit to one another, whether the same or opposite gender, should be equally recognized under law and is a civil right,” Lenhardt said.
The health-care facility audit is only one of several inquiries into Afghanistan aid that the Office of the SIGAR has revealed in the first half of 2015.
Sopko last month expressed concern about a $335 million USAID investment into the Tarakhil Power Plant, which was constructed – at a cost of $126 million more than originally estimated – to provide backup power to the capital city of Kabul.
Despite the U.S. handing over the facility to the Afghan government in June 2010, “the power plant has been severely underused and operated at just 2.2 percent of installed power production capacity.”
Sopko has requested information from USAID about the project, partly to see if the agency has adequately taken action in response to its own inspector general investigation into the plant.
Separately, a $416 million “gender equity” project has “left SIGAR with a number of troubling concerns and questions.”
Sopko said it appears that Afghan women participating in the program “may be left without any tangible benefit upon completion.”
He said he shares Afghanistan first lady Ghani’s concerns that the endeavor will “fall again into the game of contracting and sub-contracting and the routine of workshops and training sessions generating a lot of certificates on paper and little else.”
Likewise, despite the awarding of nearly a half-billion dollars in contracts – about half which is supposed to be taken care of by international donors – USAID at the time of the inquiry had not yet obtained such global financial backers, according to the SIGAR.
SIGAR in May released the results of another investigation, this time involving the construction of a 64,000 square-foot command-and- control facility in Helmand Province.
The Department of Defense, or DOD, did not heed suggestions to cancel the congressionally approved endeavor, SIGAR said. The unnecessary construction of the structure therefore “resulted in the waste of $36 million in U.S. taxpayer funds because the advice of multiple generals in the field was not followed.”
Additionally, during SIGAR’s investigation:
- There were a number of instances in which military officials apparently decided to “slow roll” or discourage candid responses to SIGAR’s requests for documents and information.
- Evidence uncovered by SIGAR indicates a senior officer serving as a legal adviser attempted to coach witnesses involved in an active investigation and encouraged military personnel not to cooperate with SIGAR. SIGAR believes these actions constituted both misconduct and mismanagement, and violated his professional and ethical responsibilities as an Army lawyer.
Sopko earlier this year had also released a report that explained the breadth of overall DOD contracts for Afghanistan reconstruction, which “comprised $21 billion (out of $66 billion appropriated to DOD) through the award of 18,962 contracts to 2,542 vendors.”
Despite the comprehensive analysis of that spending, DOD acknowledged, as was noted in the report, “that there are gaps in some of the contract data it provided to SIGAR.