Auditors find U.S. Afghan aid contract system chaotic

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The first comprehensive audit of U.S. contracts to rebuild Afghanistan found a “confusing labyrinth” of agencies and contractors in a poorly coordinated aid effort, a U.S. audit body said on Wednesday.

The Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction, known as SIGAR, found that $17.7 billion the Pentagon, State Department and U.S. Agency for International Development spent on reconstruction in Afghanistan in 2007-9 went to 7,000 contractors but often with little coordination.

“The audit shows that navigating the confusing labyrinth of government contracting is difficult, at best,” SIGAR said in a statement accompanying the audit, the first full survey of the aid contractor situation in the nine-year Afghan war.

Pentagon, State and USAID “are unable to readily report on how much money they spend on contracting for reconstruction activities in Afghanistan,” SIGAR said.

One example SIGAR highlighted was the Department of Defense’s use of four contracting organizations managing Pentagon-funded reconstruction contracts.

“The audit found that not only do those four DOD contracting organizations not coordinate and share information with one another, there is minimal sharing of information across government agencies,” it said in a statement.

The top U.S. envoy for Afghanistan and Pakistan, Richard Holbrooke, has often lamented the poor organization of civilian aid efforts critical to keeping the Afghan people’s support for their U.S.-allied government in the fight against Taliban militants.

“We have a unified military command but we have an ‘ununified’ international effort that involves the United Nations, individual countries, hundreds and hundreds, maybe thousands, of NGOs (non-governmental organizations) and other international institutions,” Holbrooke said last year.


Hundreds of independent NGOs try to work alongside the United Nations, NATO, the European Union, the United States and bilateral aid missions in Afghanistan.

But SIGAR said it struggled to come to grips with the U.S. effort alone and that its earlier recommendation to build a database had not yet been implemented.

“There is still no central U.S. government database to track reconstruction projects from the various U.S. agencies and departments, let alone, the international community,” said the group, appointed by the U.S. Congress.

The 7,000 contractors and other recipients of contract funds included for-profit and nonprofit groups, multilateral organizations like the United Nations or the World Bank and some U.S. federal agencies, it said.

“This audit is crucial because if we don’t even know who we’re giving money to, it is nearly impossible to conduct system wide oversight,” the report quoted Special Inspector General Arnold Fields as saying.

SIGAR had tried to analyze contracting for the years 2002-7, but found much of the data the government agencies had compiled prior to 2007 was “too poor to be analyzed,” it said.

Editing by Doina Chiacu