Federal Government Spent $43M on Gas Station in Afghanistan

Inspector general said it indicates ‘stupidity’ and possibly ‘fraud’

A gas station in Afghanistan in 2009
A gas station in Afghanistan in 2009 / AP

The federal government spent almost $43 million in taxpayer money to build a gas station in Afghanistan, according to a special inspector general report released Monday.

The Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) found that the project–part of the Defense Department’s Downstream Gas Utilization project and overseen by the Task Force for Stability and Business Operations–cost 140 times more than it should have.

NBC News reported:

The mission involved building and operating Afghanistan’s first compressed natural gas filling station in the city of Sheberghan and helping develop the commercial market for domestic natural gas. The problem was, according to SIGAR, is that there was "no indication" the Task Force studied the viability of the project–or considered the significant obstacles it faced–before construction began. A feasibility study "might have noted" that Afghanistan lacks the distribution infrastructure to make such a market viable–and that converting cars from gasoline to CNG would be cost-prohibitive for most Afghans, SIGAR said.

According to John Sopko, the special inspector general, the Pentagon did not cooperate with the investigation, thereby raising his suspicions of "fraud" and "corruption."

"Even considering security costs associated with construction and operation in Afghanistan, this level of expenditure appears gratuitous and extreme," Sopko said.

"It’s an outrageous waste of money that raises suspicions that there is something more there than just stupidity. There may be fraud. There may be corruption. But I cannot currently find out more about this because of the lack of cooperation."

The report noted that the Pentagon "hindered" the investigation by refusing to hand over relevant documentation and records.

"I'm suspicious when I see something that cost 140 times more than it did and I find people trying to withhold or not cooperate with me," Sopko said. "It raises my suspicions."

Brian McKeon, the principal deputy undersecretary of defense for policy, pushed back on the notion that the Pentagon did not cooperate with investigators, insisting that the agency is "quite ready, willing, and able to provide access to these records."

The government spent $42,718,730 between 2011 and 2014 to build and operate the gas station. The station should have cost no more than $500,000, the price tag of building a gas station in Pakistan, according to the inspector general report. The task force overseeing the project shut down in March 2015.