GAO: Afghan embassy costs $150M over budget

Plans to expand the U.S. Embassy in Kabul, Afghanistan, will run $150 million over budget and run 2 years behind schedule, according to a report from the Government Accountability Office released Tuesday.

As of May 2014, construction costs have increased 24 percent from the original $625.4 million projection to $773.9 million, the report found. The project, expected to be completed by the end of this summer, now likely won't be done until July 2016.

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The GAO attributed the costs and delays to increased staff requirements, risk planning, construction in a war zone, contractor delays and new shipping routes for materials through Pakistan.

“Several issues remain unresolved on this project, which may further affect requirements, cost,” the report said.

In 2010 and 2011, the Department of State awarded two contracts totaling $625.4 million for the design and construction of temporary and permanent offices and housing at the diplomatic compound, including an office annex, apartment building, cafeteria, recreation center, perimeter security and parking facilities.

But the annex must now be built for additional capacity. The new office expansion will include 1,237 desks, a nearly 60 percent increase from the original plan, and space for 661 beds, up by about 50.

The latest expansion, though, might not be enough to handle future embassy needs, the report warned, noting that the volatile political and security environment made planning difficult.

“It is difficult to determine whether current projects and existing facilities will meet future embassy needs,” the report said. “Long-term construction has been occurring in an unpredictable political and security environment characterized by dramatic changes in U.S. staff levels.”

The Kabul embassy was initially expanded between 2002 and 2009, including a renovation of the main office building built in the 1960s.

The new construction comes as American forces drawdown and end combat operations in Afghanistan.

President Obama in May announced that the U.S. would reduce its Afghan presence from 32,000 troops to 9,800 by year's end, with half of that number remaining in 2015. Only a small force to protect the Kabul embassy and manage security would remain after 2016.

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