The gas station you’re looking at, built as part of the Pentagon’s reconstruction efforts in Afghanistan, should have cost half a million dollars. Instead, it cost $43 million, and the U.S. government can’t even explain why.
A new report by the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) federal watchdog group points out this particularly insane and egregious example of botched nation building, and is addressed directly to Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter:
According to a TFBSO study, the Task Force spent nearly $43 million to construct a compressed natural gas (CNG) automobile filling station in the city of Sheberghan, Afghanistan. The main purpose of the project was to demonstrate the commercial viability of CNG for automobiles in Afghanistan as part of a broader effort to take advantage of Afghanistan’s domestic natural gas reserves and reduce the country’s reliance on energy imports.
Although TFBSO achieved its immediate objective of building the CNG filling station, it apparently did so at an exorbitant cost to U.S. taxpayers. In comparison, SIGAR found that a CNG station in Pakistan costs no more than $500,000 to construct. Furthermore, there is no indication that TFBSO considered the feasibility of achieving the station’s broader objectives or considered any of the potentially considerable obstacles to the project’s success before beginning construction.
Even worse, no one at the Pentagon can provide an explanation of how so much money was spent on a single gas station, because the DoD’s $800 million Task Force for Business and Stability Operations, which built the station, was disbanded in March:
In fact, in response to my request for information, the Principal Deputy Under Secretary for Policy stated in June 2015 that the March 2015 closure of TFBSO resulted in the Office of the Secretary “no longer possessing the personnel expertise to address these questions or to assess properly the TFBSO information and documentation retained by WHS in the OSD Executive Archive”
In short, the disastrously incompetent subdivision of the Department of Defense can’t provide any explanation of how and why it was so disastrous because it technically doesn’t exist anymore. “Frankly,” the letter adds, “I find it both shocking and incredible that DOD asserts that it no longer has any knowledge about TFBSO, an $800 million program that reported directly to the Office of the Secretary of Defense and only shut down a little over six months ago.”
The monument to wartime waste was originally supposed to cost $3 million—still quite a bit more than the $200,000 to $500,000 that a compressed natural gas station typically costs. But even that ballooned estimate ballooned, with an added $30 million in “overhead” alone. Your guess as to what that means is as good as anyone else’s, as “DOD has been unable to provide documentation showing why the Sheberghan CNG station cost nearly $43 million.”
Even more galling is that this station, had it even been constructed for a non-insane sum, would’ve been mostly useless, as there was no way to actually get natural gas to the natural gas filling station, and virtually no one in Afghanistan has a car that can run on natural gas (or the money to obtain one):
In sum, it is not clear why TFBSO believed the CNG filling station project should be undertaken. In the absence of national or even regional natural gas transmission and local distribution infrastructure to support a network of CNG stations, there is no incentive for motorists to convert their vehicles to CNG. In fact, an economic impact assessment performed at the request of TFBSO found that the CNG filling station project produced no discernable macroeconomic gains.
Instead, this will just be another footnote to the fraud and waste odyssey that is America in Afghanistan. You can read the full SIGAR report below.