Watchdog critical of State Department contracting in Afghanistan
July 25th, 2013
12:30 AM ET

Watchdog critical of State Department contracting in Afghanistan

By Jamie Crawford

A U.S. government watchdog found "serious deficiencies" in how the State Department awarded a contract job in Afghanistan, according to a letter from the organization to Secretary of State John Kerry released Thursday.

In the letter dated Monday, the special inspector general for Afghanistan reconstruction, John Sopko, raised a number of concerns on the oversight practices of the Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs (INL) at the State Department and how they awarded a contract for the training of Afghan justice workers.

Sopko said the International Development Law Organization (IDLO), the nongovernmental organization awarded the contract, is "ill-prepared to manage and account for how U.S.-taxpayer funds will be spent," while also criticizing the State Department's role in awarding the contract.

The United States has maintained that programs such as training and rule-of-law programs are central to ending the international presence in the country and allowing Afghans to take control of their own security.

Those programs involve "millions of dollars" of U.S. taxpayer money the letter said.

"The State Department - for some inexplicable reason - gave IDLO $50 million in U.S. taxpayer dollars, then gave away any oversight of this foreign entity," Sopko said in a written statement to CNN about the report. "The irony here is that State violated its own written policy and gave them a huge check to teach the Afghans about the 'rule of law.' As the saying goes, you can't make this up. We're going to get to the bottom of this and hold people accountable."

Sopko said his office - Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction, or SIGAR - was disturbed to learn the agreement for IDLO to take over the contract contained "even fewer oversight requirements" than the agreement for the previous contractor. The letter also cited testimony by a State Department official to SIGAR auditors that IDLO is unable to validate its own spending since it lacks proper international financial certifications.

"It seems ill-considered for INL to have awarded almost $50 million to an organization that may not have the ability to account for the use of those funds," Sopko wrote, "under an agreement in which INL failed to require proper provisions for oversight."

In a harshly worded section of the letter, Sopko referred to INL's assertion that it does not "have authority to compel IDLO to produce information" in the awarding of the contract as "disingenuous."

INL, the letter says, could have made the awarding of the contract contingent on a certain level of oversight. "This omission is particularly disturbing given that INL chose IDLO as the sole project implementer."

The lack of insight on the part of the Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs led Sopko's office to request information from the International Development Law Organization about its financial situation and relationships, of which Sopko said IDLO "has refused to fully comply with."

"IDLO's failure to comply with these requests raises serious concerns regarding its commitment to transparency and willingness to acknowledge the authority of the U.S. government to oversee how U.S. taxpayer funds are spent," Sopko wrote.

Subpoenas may also be issued to IDLO to "compel the production of any and all records IDLO possesses related to its operations in Afghanistan," the letter said.

Sopko recommended the State Department address the "deficiencies" in the agreement with IDLO, as well as the review of similar contracts and grants related to Afghan reconstruction to ensure they included proper oversight mechanisms.

The letter comes at a time when contracting fraud and waste in Afghanistan is receiving heightened attention in Washington.

On Wednesday, SIGAR released two separate reports highlighting problems with contractors in Afghanistan.

In one instance, SIGAR found a company contracted by the U.S. military in Afghanistan to build a school "freely substituted building materials without U.S. approval using a concrete ceiling that raises safety concerns due to the school's location in an earthquake zone."

A second audit found the State Department and the United States Agency for International Development lack the same authority the Pentagon has to terminate contracts with an entity later found to be affiliated with insurgent groups in Afghanistan or those deemed to be an enemy of the United States.

Earlier this month it was revealed that a new $34 million U.S. military compound built in Afghanistan - paid for by U.S. tax dollars - likely never would be used.

Post by:
Filed under: Afghanistan • Contractors • State Department
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  43. Caliphornia

    Were the afghan consulted in this? If so, they know their training needs best. If not, then it should not be called redevelopment for Afghanistan. It should be called free meh to the Italians!

    July 26, 2013 at 3:44 pm | Reply
  44. Phelix Unger

    Hold on here a minute, contracts given out without proper vetting, American tax dollars going to unqualified contractors, say it ain't so Joe. This is the first time that's happened, idiots.

    July 26, 2013 at 1:33 pm | Reply
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    July 25, 2013 at 1:38 pm | Reply
    • George patton

      Good posting, P.S.Norfolk. Thank you.

      July 26, 2013 at 12:08 am | Reply
  46. George patton

    Here goes another total waste of our tax money, giving out contracts to the much corrupt IDLO. Besides, didn't we do enough damage to Afghanistan anyway? Let the Chinese move in and clean up the mess that NATO left there, I say!!!

    July 25, 2013 at 7:51 am | Reply
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    July 25, 2013 at 7:40 am | Reply
    • DaLe

      Relevance being ... ? To me it sounds that Mohammed was a rule of "just" law man. As for military matters, in the early days of Islam the environment was and in the area still is noticably different than that of many fortifications builders, such as that a wall in the desert would have turned into a dune way more quickly. Nevertheless, the concept of "castle" wasn't unknown even then albeit arguably not as liked due to such as when some feudals actually used that to make raids against everyone weak and due to not having function as castles where especially in the early medieval age they seem to have been used as "safety zone" against floods and fires, and similarly as protected storage.

      July 25, 2013 at 11:20 pm | Reply
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    As if we didn't have enough of our own incompetents now we are going around the world looking for foreign incompetents to hire? And we picked Italy of all places!

    July 25, 2013 at 7:28 am | Reply
  49. Curious

    Why didn't the INL find all this out before it handed IDLO this king's ransom of a contract? Wouldn't this be within the INL's due diligence to do this?

    July 25, 2013 at 7:24 am | Reply
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    Corrupt Dems at it again

    July 25, 2013 at 7:00 am | Reply
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      The white guy did it

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  51. DaLe

    All that money and no job for me... :/

    July 25, 2013 at 4:45 am | Reply
    • Joe

      But there is job. Maybe you are just too lazy. You have to find a way to give the guy handing out contracts a back-hander and you will be in on the job in robbing the tax payer's money no time.

      July 25, 2013 at 5:43 am | Reply
      • DaLe

        Tho, the thing is i wouldn't be robbing it as there would be return for work and budget used towards to goals of that work.

        Not that i would have to insist to work on the aforementioned. E.g. production of a movie about how Australia lets build a huge wall around Australia and turns the non-military part of population into forced labourers while military top slowly turns into a sort of CEO and then perhaps even make laws turning the non-military forced labourers into prisoners with no pay and nothing, all while they make sort of propaganda speeches and totalitarian system aimed to serve the comfort of military top, would have my interest to work on too.

        July 25, 2013 at 11:18 pm |
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      me too

      July 25, 2013 at 6:26 am | Reply
      • DaLe

        if the deciders should be like "even a random guy could do a better job. Let's pick from that page here and hey, DaLe looks awesome" and give me a $40 million contract to teach in Afghanistan about the rule of law, i would be able to hire you.

        July 25, 2013 at 11:16 pm |
    • Former Democrat

      You want a job? elect a Republican.

      You want 4 years of gridlock; more wars. and more corruption – elect Hillary

      July 25, 2013 at 7:03 am | Reply
  52. Shocker

    INL is a great organization with poor oversight. The Bureau should fall under Diplomatic Security however, it's ran by the political section. The political officers at DoS fine people however, law related issue are not within their skillset.

    July 25, 2013 at 3:09 am | Reply
  53. Caliphornia

    IDLO is just as corrupt as the Afghan government. It is, after all, an Italian led organization. The State Dept should've just handed the money to poor Afghans. With IDLO in charge of the money, Afghans will not see any benefits, but IDLO will. In the end, America gave the Italians money for staying in Afghanistan post 2014. Thank you, Mr. Spoko, for investigating how our tax dollars are being wasted by USAID, State, DoD, and others.

    July 25, 2013 at 2:39 am | Reply

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