The Task Force for Business and Stability Operations spent almost $150 million since 2009 renting “specially furnished, privately owned ‘villas’” and hiring “contractors to provide 24-hour building security, food services and bodyguards” for its staff and visitors, said John Sopko, the special inspector general for Afghanistan reconstruction, in a letter released Thursday.
It was Sopko’s second letter asking for a public accounting of funds used by the task force, which was intended to encourage business development amid the long-running war in Afghanistan and spent about $766 million before it was disbanded in March. Last month, Sopko said that a preliminary review found the task force spent almost $43 million on a natural-gas filling station for autos that he said should have cost about $500,000.
While Sopko didn’t allege that the expenditures on housing were illegal or improper, he said in a letter to Defense Secretary Ash Carter that “it is unclear what benefit the U.S. received.” Sopko wrote that he has asked for details on the expenses and lists of potential investors that the task force brought to Afghanistan.
“It appears the taxpayers would have saved tens of millions of dollars” if task force employees had lived instead at Department of Defense facilities where “housing, security and food services are routinely provided at little or no extra charge to DoD organizations,” Sopko wrote. He cited consultants hired by the task force as saying the rented housing provided “freedom of movement” and avoided “red tape” in arranging travel.
The Pentagon has received Sopko’s letter and will respond, said Army Lieutenant Colonel Joe Sowers, a Pentagon spokesman, in an e-mail.
Some of the villas provided a flat-screen television, DVD player and mini-refrigerator in each room as well as meals that were “at least 3 stars” and provided “at least two entree choices and three side-order choices,” according to contracting documentation cited by Sopko.
Paul Brinkley, the task force’s former director, said he has never been contacted by Sopko’s office but was willing to meet and discuss the issues.