12/18/2016 — It began with a gas station Afghanistan in Sharyl Attkisson that should have cost less than $500,000 but reportedly cost $43 million U.S. tax dollars. The deal was cut by a federal agency that has spent $800 million tax dollars to date. When the Inspector General who polices all that spending started to dig in—he became the target of a campaign to discredit his work.
Here is the article and the full video by Full Measure’s Sharyl Attkisson:
John Sopko: Part of this was to develop a market in Afghanistan for compressed natural gas automobiles.
John Sopko is talking about this $43 million dollar compressed natural gas station in Afghanistan. Impractical and overpriced, he found, by about $42 and a half million dollars.
Sopko: They really didn’t do any market surveys. They really didn’t see if there was enough liquefied natural gas or compressed natural gas.
It’s one of the most notorious boondoggles Sopko has uncovered as the Inspector General policing the billions of U.S. tax money spent to rebuild Afghanistan. He’s shown here on a recent inspection in Kabul.
The gas station, it turns out, was the brainstorm of an arcane federal agency: the Defense Department’s Task Force on Business and Stability Operations—or TFBSO.
It spent an astounding $800 million American tax dollars over five years to kick start the Afghan economy.
Sopko: We received more allegations about TFBSO than we have about any other government entity. We heard allegations that uh they didn’t do any due diligence they wasted the money and basically the program didn’t succeed.
Appointed by President Obama, Sopko–a former mafia prosecutor—is widely-considered an effective watchdog of a government culture resistant to oversight. Which may be why he’s now been targeted by efforts to discredit him and his work.
One sign came earlier this year. On the eve of a Congressional hearing about the gas station,
the Defense Department gave Congress and select reporters – entirely new figures on the supposed cost and suggested Sopko’s team had it all wrong.
Sopko: The night before, the Defense Department said oh, by the way, all those data all that data is wrong. Which it may have been but — we got it from them.
At the hearing, the Defense Department’s Brian McKeon claimed the true cost of their military funded gas station was far less than $43 million dollars. As proof, he referred to a new memo supposedly written by military consultant Robert Schraven.
Brian McKeon: The consulting firm that conducted the assessment has also reviewed its work, and we have sent a copy of their memo to the committee staff indicating that total costs of the station are likely well under $10 million.
And the hearing on government misspending… suddenly seemed to put Inspector General Sopko, the IG, in the hot seat.
Sen. Tim Kaine: There are also some questions about the IG…
Senator Tim Kaine challenged Sopko’s accounting methods and accused him of waffling on the gas station’s price tag.
Sen. Kaine: But the fact that the IG is putting out material with two different numbers is something that I definitely want to dig into today and understand.
Sharyl Attkisson: When you were sitting there and hearing the Defense Department redefine the numbers they had given you, and in essence blaming your agency as some dishonest broker, what was going through your mind?
Sopko: Welcome to Washington. (laughs) I’ve seen this before.
Sopko vigorously defended his work.
Sopko: I would remind all of the members, our requirement is to report the best number available. We do not make numbers up. In the end, whether it is $43 million or $20 million or $10 million, it is still a lot more than should have been spent in Afghanistan.
Sopko: So if they’re now claiming it’s wrong well then, what’s going on with your recordkeeping?
Attkisson: I watched that hearing to me it was remarkable. They made it look like you were the guy that got everything wrong. That you had some axe to grind.
Sopko: But I felt certain we had the right numbers we were right. As long as you’re right the truth will come out. And I think a number of members on the committee also realized that this totally unfair and totally bogus.
Senator Claire McCaskill wasn’t buying the military’s new memo on the gas station’s lower cost.
Sen Claire McCaskill: The argument that has been put forth in the press that somehow the figures in this are not correct, I mean frankly, all you did was fan the flames that somehow it was not $43 million when you cannot even say where the $30 million went. This is a terrible waste of taxpayer money when we have so many other uses for it.
After the hearing, Sopko continued his investigation of TFBSO—and he remained in the crosshairs. Some in the press advanced the theme that he’s “overzealous” and “sloppy.” Stories quoted anonymous critics at the federal agencies where he’s found waste, fraud and abuse.
Attkisson: This is the Politico article that I know you’ve seen that talked about you as if you were the guy that made all the mistakes.
Now why would Politico do that? Here is their article: http://www.politico.com/story/2016/01/pentagon-defense-waste-afghanistan-217999
In it Politico said this: At the same time, the inspector general has attracted criticism, especially from officials at the State Department, USAID and the Pentagon, who say his office produces shoddy, misleading work and fails to appreciate the challenges of working in a war zone.