By John T. Bennett - 09/15/11 05:38 PM EDT
House Oversight and Government Reform Committee members said Thursday the Defense Department has a long way to go despite new measures intended to fight contracting fraud in Afghanistan.
“Corruption is [now] a greater enemy and threat than the Taliban,” Rep. Stephen Lynch (D-Mass.) said Thursday during a hearing of the panel’s National Security subcommittee. “The Taliban can be beaten or co-opted; corruption in that culture is a much tougher road.”
One of those services that has seen the most corruption is using private Afghanistan trucking firms. Often, the contents of shipments never arrive at their destinations, and the military has not sought repayment or penalized the firms that were under contract to deliver the cargo.
Gen. Stephen Townsend, director of the Joint Staff's Pakistan-Afghanistan Coordination Cell, told the panel that U.S. military officials have calculated they have recovered more than $170 million in cargo that never arrived.
More than 1,000 trucks carrying U.S. military fuel have been pilfered, leading to the loss of up to 1.1 million gallons of fuel, according to the subcommittee.
The Pentagon says it does not have figures for how much cargo and fuel — the most often pilfered item — might have been stolen since the fighting started there in late 2001.
Townsend and other Pentagon witnesses told the subcommittee that they have implemented tougher contracting rules in recent months, and are seeing some progress. They also are trying to bring in a larger pool of prime contractors for things like trucking services and have begun deducting amounts on invoices for missing cargo.
But subcommittee leaders said much more must be done.
Subcommittee ranking member John Tierney (D-Mass.) panned one contract that had led to U.S. dollars being wasted – that tender went to a firm he and Townsend said was owned by two cousins of Afghan President Hamid Karzai.
Tierney said the subcommittee’s probes of the use of Afghan firms turned up “little evidence of contract oversight and management.”
He said lawmakers want to see more instances in which U.S. contracting personnel are “going beyond the gate” of their bases to do spot checks to ensure contracts are being carried out properly.