Building this gas station should have cost $500,000. Instead, the U.S. military spent $42,718,739 and can’t explain why.
The gas station in question is very true to its name; it is a compressed natural gas station located in Sheberghan, Afghanistan. A big field of natural gas was discovered in Sheberghan, Buzzfeed reports, which sort of explains why this station is there.
What is harder to explain, is the cost of construction. The Task Force for Stability and Business Operations (TFBSO), a part of the Pentagon working in Afghanistan, gave this as the exact cost of the project.
The Task Force spent $42,718,739 between 2011 and 2014 to fund the construction and to supervise the initial operation of the CNG station (approximately $12.3 [million] in direct costs and $30.0 [million] in overhead costs).
A recent report from the Special Inspector-General for the Rebuilding of Afghanistan investigated the “troubling” and “exorbitant cost” of this station, pointing out that a similar station in Pakistan costs about $500,000 to build. The Sheberghan? Not so much.
If you’re wondering whether or not a CNG station makes sense for Afghanistan, the answer is a resounding no-way-in-hell, as this line from the Inspector-General clarifies.
TFBSO’s contractor, CADG, states that conversion to CNG costs $700 per car; other sources estimate that it costs up to $800.18 According to the World Bank, the average annual income in Afghanistan is $690.
Most terrifying of all is this line in the Inspector-General’s report.
[T]he Department of Defense claims that it is unable to provide an explanation for the high cost of the project or to answer any other questions concerning its planning, implementation, or outcome. 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.”
Was the cost overrun because of regular warzone-related delays? Was it because the government funded Afghani drivers to convert their cars to run on CNG, when the cost of conversion is more than the average Afghani earns in a year? Was it because the government never actually examined the feasibility of a CNG station before starting the project, as the Inspector-General questions? We don’t know!
Not only does the U.S. government spend 86 times what is normal on a gas station, and not only does it not explain why, it claims that it does not possess the expertise to even attempt to clear the whole thing up.
This is far from the only example of rampant government waste in Afghanistan (flying Afghani jewelers to India, Paris, and Milan for “training” comes to mind), but this $43 million gas station is the most absurd I’ve heard.
(Hat tip to Matt Novak!)
Photo Credit: Central Asia Development Group via Special Inspector-General for the Rebuilding of Afghanistan
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