WASHINGTON — A now-defunct Defense Department office tasked to build a compressed natural gas automobile filling station in Afghanistan spent an "exorbitant" $43 million on the facility, according John Sopko, the special inspector general for Afghanistan reconstruction (SIGAR).
What's more is the DoD could offer no explanation as to why TFBSO spent exponentially more on the station than on a similar station built in Pakistan that cost no more than $500,000 to build, Sopko said in his letter to Defense Secretary Ash Carter accompanying the report on the "ill-conceived" project.
"One of the most troubling aspects of this project is that the Department of Defense claims that it is unable to provide an explanation for the high cost of the project or to answer any questions concerning its planning, implementation, or outcome," he wrote.
Sopko said that the Pentagon's principal deputy under secretary for policy told him in June that the TFBSO closure in March "resulted in the Office of the Secretary 'no longer possessing the personnel expertise to address these questions or assess properly the TFBSO information and documentation.' "
"Frankly, 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," Sopko said.
The SIGAR report states that no evidence exists that TFBSO conducted a feasibility study before diving into the project. If TFBSO had done so, Sopko says, "they might have noted that Afghanistan lacks the natural gas transmission and local distribution infrastructure necessary to support a viable market for CNG vehicles."
The average Afghan likely can't afford the cost of converting a car to run on compressed natural gas, which can cost about $700 per car. The average annual income for an Afghan is about $690, the report notes.
Sopko also said his office found that Qashqari Oil and Gas Services, the company licensed to work the filling station, had a business license that expired in November 2014, only six months after the company began operating the station, and that it has not been renewed.
"I intend to continue our inquiry into TFBSO activities to shed additional light on how this program operated, what it achieved, how this enormous amount of money was spent, and whether any conduct by TFBSO staff or contractors was criminal in nature," Sopko said.
Jen Judson is the land warfare reporter for Defense News. She has covered defense in the Washington area for 10 years. She was previously a reporter at Politico and Inside Defense. She won the National Press Club's best analytical reporting award in 2014 and was named the Defense Media Awards' best young defense journalist in 2018.