It’s never good to read the reports of the special inspector general for Afghanistan reconstruction without having a bottle of antacid nearby. On July 8, John F. Sopko, the special inspector general, sent a letter to Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, CENTCOM commander General Lloyd Austin III, and ISAF commander General Joseph Dunford Jr., which read in part:
I was told by senior U.S. military officials that the recently completed Regional Command-Southwest (RC-SW) Command and Control Facility, a 64,000 square feet building and related infrastructure with a contract award value of $34 million that was meant to serve as a command headquarters in Helmand to support the surge, will not be occupied. Based on documents provided to SIGAR, it appears that military commanders in Afghanistan determined as early as May 2010 that there was no need for the facility, yet the military still moved ahead with the construction project and continued to purchase equipment and make various improvements to the building in early 2013. Based on these preliminary findings, I am deeply troubled that the military may have spent taxpayer funds on a construction project that should have been stopped. In addition, I was told that U.S. military officials expect that the building will be either demolished or turned over to the Afghan government as our military presence in Afghanistan declines and Camp Leatherneck is reduced in size. Both alternatives for how to resolve this issue are troubling—destroying a never-occupied and never-used building or turning over what may be a “white elephant” to the Afghan government that it may not have the capacity to sustain.
Photos of the facility are here. To be fair, Hagel, Austin, and Dunford were not in the positions of authority they were in May 2010: Robert Gates, David Petraeus, and Stanley McChrystal were. If the special inspector general’s report is true, and the Defense Department went ahead with building a $34 million structure that they knew at the time was not going to be used, then it is well past time that Congress use its authority to investigate what the Pentagon likely will not: A failure of leadership that came at the expense of the American taxpayer. Perhaps Gates, Petraeus, and McChrystal were not the figures who approved such waste, but they might assist in understanding how and where such a decision was made. After all, if the military can conduct lessons learned on the battlefield, its administrators can also conduct lessons learned in their scope of work. That such waste is exposed against the backdrop of civilian defense workers taking 20 percent pay cuts for the next 11 weeks simply adds insult to injury.