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Grassley pushes probe of Pentagon task force

Grassley pushes probe of Pentagon task force
© Greg Nash

Sen. Chuck GrassleyChuck GrassleyMnuchin, Price meet with GOP senators Business groups express support for Branstad nomination 10 no-brainer ways to cut healthcare costs without hurting quality MORE (R-Iowa) is demanding answers from the Pentagon about a task force accused of wasting millions of taxpayer dollars in its efforts to rebuild Afghanistan's economy.

"Testimony from a Defense Department official left me with more questions than answers," the Senate Judiciary Chairman said in a statement Monday. “It’s more obvious than ever that a top-to-bottom audit is needed to address all the questions being raised. We need a full and complete accounting of how the money was spent."

Grassley wrote to Defense Secretary Ash Carter in a letter released publicly Monday with nearly two-dozen questions he wants answered.

The task force, known as the Task Force for Business and Stability Operations (TFBSO), has come under fire after a series of scathing inspector general reports accused it of wasting millions on expenses such as a compressed natural gas station and private villas.

Congress appropriated $820 million for the task force. Of that, $638 million was spent, according to Grassley’s letter.

“Please document what happened to the $182 million in unexpended appropriations and whether expired funds were returned to the Treasury, as required by law, or were reprogrammed by Congress for other purposes,” Grassley wrote to Carter.

It's one of 23 questions Grassley presented.

He also expressed concern over a report the Pentagon cited as an audit of the task force, but which he found did not meet “generally accepted auditing standards.”

“An attempt by (accounting consultant Williams Adley) to test and validate the accuracy of a sample of 45 TFBSO transactions, valued at $87.4 million, was unsuccessful for one very basic reason - auditors were unable match transaction data with contracts, invoices, receiving reports and payment records,” Grassley wrote. “Presumably this was because those records were not readily available or did not exist.

“Bottom line: the results of this very narrow review suggest that TFBSO’s internal controls were weak or non-existent,” he added.

Grassley asked why Brian McKeon, principal deputy under secretary of Defense for policy, classified Williams Adley’s (WA) report as an audit, why WA wasn’t asked to do a top-to-bottom audit, why the Pentagon didn’t have supporting documents for auditors to review and whether any recommendations from the report were implemented.

Grassley also continued to press the case of Col. John Hope, who alleged his evaluation report was delayed in retaliation for blowing the whistle on the task force.

“The suggestion that a computer glitch in September is the reason it took from January to November to sign this OER is not plausible,” Grassley wrote, using an abbreviation for officer evaluation report.

“Neither Mr. McKeon nor (former task force director) Mr. (Joe) Catalino officially signed it until November 19, 2015 – ten months after it was initially received but just two days after I raised questions about the delinquent OER in my November 17, 2015 letter to DoD,” he added. “This sequence of events appears to suggest Mr. McKeon was able to move with amazing speed when necessary. Nonetheless, I view Mr. Catalino’s failure to complete and sign Col. Hope’s OER from January 13th until November 19th as a red flag. It smells of potential retaliation.”

In his statement Monday, Grassley called for a "full accounting of whether the Pentagon retaliated against an Army colonel who tried to point out what was wrong at the task force."

"The public needs answers so those responsible for wrongful spending and poor treatment of a whistleblower can be held accountable,” he stressed.

Last month, McKeon defended the task force to a Senate Armed Services subcommittee, but acknowledged the Pentagon may not be the best agency to carry out economic development missions.