Watchdog opens criminal investigation into $28M Pentagon camouflage boondoggle

Watchdog opens criminal investigation into $28M Pentagon camouflage boondoggle
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The U.S. government’s leading oversight authority for Afghanistan reconstruction on Tuesday said there is a criminal investigation into the $28 million boondoggle for forest camouflage for the Afghan army.

John Sopko, the special inspector general for Afghanistan reconstruction (SIGAR), said he opened the investigation after the Pentagon was found to have spent more than $93 million in taxpayer dollars on Afghan National Army (ANA) uniforms that used a forest camouflage pattern, despite the country’s scarcity of forests.

“This $93 million procurement demonstrates what happens when people in the government don’t follow the rules,” Sopko told the House Armed Services Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee.

“These problems are serious. They are so serious that we started a criminal investigation related to the procurement of the ANA uniforms,” he added.

The Pentagon bought the 1.3 million uniforms though the Combined Security Transition Command-Afghanistan over 10 years “without testing its effectiveness and costing up to $28 million more than needed,” Sopko said.

The SIGAR report findings, released in June, was widely panned as a major misuse of taxpayer dollars. Even Defense Secretary Jim Mattis weighed in last week, condemning the alleged waste as “cavalier” spending in a memo to Pentagon officials.

The report also found that CSTC-A only showed the Afghan minister of defense proprietary camouflage patterns owned by one company, Canadian firm HyperStealth. The command awarded a sole-source contract to HyperStealth, over the objections of Defense Department contracting officers.

Because of this, Sopko said he is also recommending a review of all organizational clothing and individual equipment contracts in Afghanistan.

Sopko could not give a timeline for the investigation.

“It takes a long time," Sopko said. "One of the problems is I don’t have subpoena authority to compel somebody to talk to my agents. They can slam the door in their face.”

Rep. Seth Moulton (D-Mass.) the subcommittee's top Democrat, called the additional costs a “gross waste of taxpayer dollars.”

Rep. Walter Jones (R-N.C.), meanwhile, said the report’s findings “is what is just absolutely disgusting to the American people.”

“We are just as responsible for the waste, fraud and abuse when we are told by experts like you of what’s going on and yet we keep spending billions and billions of dollars,” Jones said.

Sopko recommended fixes to the Pentagon’s personnel system, saying that such wasteful spending continues to occur because of lack of accountability and is made all the more difficult due to annual rotation requirements.

“They’re never held accountable for their screw up because they’re not around when the screw up is discovered by us,” he said. “By the time we get there — it’s like the detective show you see on TV, if we’re lucky there’s a chalk outline of the body, but usually it’s seven years old.”

He added that the department has to stop offering incentives that encourage contracting officers to spend money.

“I don’t know how many contracting officers have told me, ‘I get rewarded at the end of the year of how much money I put on contract. Not on whether the contract is good or not.’”