American taxpayers are on the hook for a $43 million gas station constructed in Afghanistan -- a price tag that’s about $42.5 million higher than it should’ve been, and the Department of Defense can’t explain why, according to a new government report.
“The DOD charged the American taxpayer $43 million for what is likely the world’s most expensive gas station,” Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) John Sopko said, ahead of the release of the SIGAR report today. “DOD spent $43 million on the gas station, without determining it would be a good idea, and now claims it knows nothing about the project.”
The SIGAR report details the planning and construction of a compressed natural gas (CNG) station in the Afghan city of Sheberghan, part of a larger Downstream Gas Utilization Project designed to take advantage of Afghanistan’s natural gas reserves. The gas station itself was meant to prove that CNG stations were a viable alternative to imported petroleum for Afghan vehicles.
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SIGAR found that in other countries, for example in Pakistan next door, the total cost for constructing a CNG station can be up to $500,000 -- not the astronomical $43 million the DOD paid.
“To date, DOD has been unable to provide documentation showing why the Sheberghan CNG station cost nearly $43 million,” the SIGAR report says. “Even considering security costs associated with construction and operation in Afghanistan, this level of expenditure appears gratuitous and extreme.”
According to SIGAR, DOD said the group in charge of the project, the Task Force for Business and Stability Operations (TFBSO), had been closed in March 2015 and therefore the DOD “no longer possess[es] the personnel expertise to address these questions...” The TFBSO had been in charge of over $800 million, SIGAR said.
Beyond the high cost, SIGAR reports that the DOD task force did not look into the feasibility of the gas station and that the infrastructure necessary to support the CNG station was lacking.
Additionally, the cost of converting local vehicles to be able to use compressed natural gas is reportedly around $700 – a little more than the average annual income for locals.
“In sum, it is not clear why TFBSO believed the CNG filling station project should be undertaken,” the SIGAR report says.
Rep. Jason Chaffetz, Chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, said it is "negligent and irresponsible for the Obama administration to spend the American taxpayer's hard-earned money with such careless abandon."
Lt. Col. Joe Sowers, a spokesperson for the Department of Defense, acknowledged in a written statement that TFBSO personnel would not be around to answer questions, as the office was shutting down, but said the Pentagon established a "reading room" for SIGAR to review relevant documents.
"We continue to provide complete and unfettered access to TFBSO documents to SIGAR through the reading room managed by the Washington Headquarters Services. Further, we have offered to assist SIGAR in locating and contacting any former TFBSO personnel they wish to interview," Sowers said. "We welcome the continued review of this project by SIGAR."