SHAHEEN PUSHES FOR BETTER OVERSIGHT OF U.S. TAXPAYER DOLLARS IN AFGHANISTAN

December 12, 2011

(Washington, DC) –U.S. Senator Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) today strongly urged Pentagon leaders to go after a construction contractor whose shoddy work and cost overruns endangered workers and left U.S. taxpayers on the hook for $4.3 million.

In a letter to the Air Force Center for Engineering and the Environment (AFCEE), Shaheen urged the Pentagon agency to heed the recommendations of the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR), who said the agency should demand repayment from a contractor whose poor quality assurance led to costly electrical failures on a major project. The Air Force has so far refused to pursue damages from the contractor, AMEC Earth and Environmental.

“The Air Force Center for Engineering and the Environment has an obligation to the United States government and its service members that resources are spent in a cost-effective and timely manner.  It is critical that AFCEE spends taxpayer dollars wisely and ensures that we are not putting our men and women in uniform in harm’s way any longer than is absolutely necessary,” Shaheen wrote in the letter.

SIGAR's October 2011 audit report on construction of facilities at the Kabul Military Training Facility, which the Air Force oversees, cited poor contractor performance as the reason for major electrical failures. Five electrical fires broke out in four separate facilities between November and December of 2008 and the subsequent electrical repairs cost S4.3 million. In addition to the cost, these fires are a safety hazard that put our troops and our Afghan partners at risk. And SIGAR has expressed concerns that there may be additional electrical failures at the facility in the future as a result of the construction failures. SIGAR recommended the Air Force seek reimbursement from the prime contractor, AMEC, but the Air Force has so far rejected this recommendation and will not hold AMEC financially accountable, meaning that U.S. taxpayers are left to pay for the contractor’s carelessness.

Today’s letter is part of ongoing efforts by Shaheen to work towards greater accountability of taxpayer dollars in Afghanistan.  In June, she pushed for effective and coordinated oversight to ensure efficient use of civilian aid in Afghanistan during a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing. The committee considered the nomination of Ryan Crocker to serve as U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan, and Shaheen urged him to make oversight improvements a priority. Earlier this year, Shaheen wrote to President Obama seeking a dramatic overhaul of the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR), following audits that found significant accounts of ineffectual spending in its Commanders' Emergency Response Program (CERP). In her January 2010 letter to Secretary Clinton, Shaheen pointed to the fact that $60 billion from over 50 different international donors had been pledged to Afghanistan efforts, and Shaheen successfully pushed for the appointment of a strong civilian coordinator to guard against misuse of the money. 

Shaheen’s letter is below.

Dec 12, 20111

Mr. Terry Edwards
Director
Air Force Center for Engineering and the Environment
Lackland Air Force Base, Texas 78236

Dear Mr. Edwards:

I am writing to express serious concerns regarding ineffective spending and wasted resources in our construction projects in Afghanistan, specifically with regard to a recent Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) audit recommendation that was not accepted by the Air Force Center for Engineering and Environment (AFCEE).

As you know, U.S. policy in Afghanistan calls for the successful transition of security responsibility to the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) by the end of 2014.  Building an effective Afghan security force has required the construction of additional facilities at ANSF’s primary training center, the Kabul Military Training Facility (KMTC); AFCEE is overseeing this effort. 

SIGAR’s October 2011 Audit 12-2 on construction of facilities at KMTC found poor contractor performance to blame for major electrical failures.  Although AFCEE’s own quality assurance contractor had identified these problems early on, it acted only after five electrical fires broke out in four separate buildings in a two-month span.  The electrical repairs that were needed increased the project’s costs and delayed further construction at KMTC.  In all, AFCEE paid $4.3 million for these repairs, a cost that should have been assumed by the prime contractor, AMEC Earth and Environmental, Inc. (AMEC).  Furthermore, SIGAR has expressed concerns that additional repairs may be needed in the future from more possible electrical failures at KMTC.

According to SIGAR, AFCEE will not seek remuneration from AMEC for the $4.3 million cost of these electrical repairs.  This decision leaves U.S. taxpayers footing the bill.

AFCEE has an obligation to the United States government and its servicemembers that resources are spent in a cost-effective and timely manner.  It is critical that AFCEE spends taxpayer dollars wisely and ensures that we are not putting our men and women in uniform in harm’s way any longer than is absolutely necessary.  With this in mind, I would like to know what actions AFCEE plans to take regarding SIGAR’s recommendation regarding the $4.3 million in excessive costs from AMEC.  I strongly urge it adhere to the auditor’s recommendation. 

Thank you for your attention to this matter.

Sincerely,

Jeanne Shaheen
United States Senator

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