The Obama administration is attempting to slash the resources of the watchdog that has repeatedly exposed wasteful spending of billions of tax dollars in Afghanistan.
The Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR), John Sopko, has never shied away from reporting on the myriad mistakes and bad decisions on the part of the State and Defense departments in Afghanistan.
For his honest and thorough assessments, Sopko may now have to make do with a much smaller staff to keep watch on how U.S. money is being spent. Sopko was told by the State Department that he must remove 40% of his staff from Afghanistan within the year. The reduction will mean the number of SIGAR staff members will fall from 42 to 25.
“SIGAR was told that this 40 percent cut is nonnegotiable. This arbitrary number was developed without SIGAR’s input, and embassy officials did not provide any explanation for how they determined these cuts,” Sopko testified to the House Subcommittee on National Security, Committee on Oversight and Government Reform. The change will make it more difficult for SIGAR to monitor the spending of $15 billion more on Afghan rebuilding.
When questioned about the cuts by Foreign Policy, the State Department appeared to back away, in classic bureaucratese, from what Sopko had been told. “Any assertion that the Embassy Kabul unilaterally ordered SIGAR to make staffing cuts in 2016 is false,” a State Department official said. “In preparation for a congressionally mandated rightsizing exercise, an embassy official in Kabul discussed staffing size with SIGAR, but underscored that the exercise was the beginning of a dialogue on what functions and positions must be kept, not a decision to cut.”
A SIGAR official welcomed the apparent change. “We are happy that State is now willing to discuss SIGAR’s staffing numbers,” Alex Bronstein-Moffly, SIGAR’s spokesman, said late Wednesday. “However, on Monday SIGAR was informed by senior U.S. Embassy leadership not to bother challenging the staffing cuts.”
The U.S. has already poured $110 billion on Afghanistan’s reconstruction, some of which can’t be accounted for, according to SIGAR’s many reports. For example, the U.S. has spent about $3.8 billion just on paying the salaries of Afghanistan’s security forces. But 20% of Afghan police officers are paid in cash by their superiors, making it impossible to know if all the money is really going to them or if “middlemen” are pocketing “unknown cuts of their salaries off the books,” theWashington Examiner’s Sarah Westwood wrote.
-Noel Brinkerhoff, Steve Straehley
To Learn More:
State Department Slashes Oversight in Afghanistan, Putting Billions at Risk (by Sarah Westwood, Washington Examiner)
SIGAR Warns of Drastic Drawdown in Afghanistan Oversight (by Michael Smallberg, Project on Government Oversight)
Irony of Ironies: Afghan Watchdog Who Identified Vast Waste Told to Slash Staff (by Klaus Marre, WhoWhatWhy)
Taliban Gains Pull U.S. Units Back Into Fight in Afghanistan (by Azam Ahmed and Joseph Goldstein, New York Times)
Following the Trail of U.S. Taxpayers’ Dollars Abroad: On-Budget Assistance in Afghanistan (Committee on Oversight and Government Reform)
Where in Afghanistan Did $35 Billion Go? (by Klaus Marre, WhoWhatWhy)
State and Afghan Watchdog Clash (by Paul McLeary and Ariel Robinson, Foreign Policy)
Harsh Inspector General Report Says 0 of 16 Afghan Agencies can be Trusted with U.S. Aid (by Noel Brinkerhoff and Danny Biederman, AllGov)
U.S. to Lose Oversight of Afghanistan Reconstruction Projects worth Billions (by Noel Brinkerhoff and Danny Biederman, AllGov)
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