Pentagon spent $150 million on luxury villas for employees in Afghanistan
The Pentagon is under fire again for excessive spending in Afghanistan. Following reports of the $43 million gas station, a government watchdog says nearly $150 million was spent on villas, meals, and security guards for a “handful” of employees.
On Thursday, Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) released a letter to Secretary of Defense Ash Carter in which SIGAR chief John F. Sopko asked for more information about $150 million that was authorized by the Task Force for Business and Stability Operations (TFBSO), a small division of the defense department charged with stabilizing the economies of Iraq and Afghanistan.
“SIGAR’s preliminary review indicates that TFBSO leadership rented specially furnished, privately owned ‘villas’ and hired contractors to provide 24-hour building security, food services, and bodyguards for TFBSO staff and visitors traveling in country,” the letter states.
Sopko wrote that its “unclear what benefits the US received” from the task force spending so much money on luxury accommodations when the government could have saved “tens of millions of dollars” by having employees live on US military bases. According to SIGAR, the $150 million expense incurred from 2010 to 2014 comprised almost 20% of TFBSO’s budget.
The letter also calls on the Pentagon to disclose more information on who had stayed at the villas and who approved the expenditures.
“We have received the recent letter from SIGAR and will respond,” Pentagon spokesman Army Lieutenant Colonel Joe Sowers said.
The accommodations provided housing for “no more than five to 10” employees, the letter said. Housing a staff of 10 at the US Embassy would have only cost $1.8 million, according to the inspector general’s estimates.
SIGAR included a statement from Paul Brinkley, former deputy undersecretary of defense and TFBSO’s first director, in the letter. Brinkley said the decision to rent luxury accommodations rather than hire housing staffers on military bases was intended to show private companies “that they could set up operations in Afghanistan themselves without needing military support.” A footnote in the letter said that Brinkley has not cooperated with requests for information.
TFSBO had drawn the ire of the inspector general only a month earlier, when it was revealed that they had spent $43 million on a gas station that should have cost only $500,000. When asked about how the funding was approved, TFSBO told Sopko that it “no longer possess[es] the personnel expertise to address these questions.”
In the wake of that controversy, Senator Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) called for increased transparency, questioning how the Pentagon can claim it cannot give details on how the task force spent its money.
“Under the law, government employees are not authorized to spend tax dollars without proper documentation like contracts, invoices, receiving reports and payment vouchers,” the senator said. “The Defense Department needs to come clean, drop the obfuscation, and hold people responsible for a colossal waste of tax dollars.”