February 23, 2020

The fog of bureaucracy

          WASHINGTON MERRY-GO-ROUND

Founded by Drew Pearson 1932

The fog of bureaucracy

By Douglas Cohn and Eleanor Clift

WASHINGTON – Do bureaucrats really run the country? If the following example is replicated throughout the government, the answer is, “Yes.”

Not since the days of the $434 hammer and the $600 toilet seat cover has the Pentagon taken such a hit. A blistering report issued by the Inspector General for the reconstruction of Afghanistan, John F. Sopko, and reported in The Washington Post, finds the military readying a plan to demolish a cushy new Marine headquarters in Helmand Province just as contractors are putting the finishing touches on the building, which cost U.S. taxpayers $34 million and, at 64,000 square feet, is larger than a football field.

Sopko called the two-story windowless structure “the best constructed building I have seen in my travels to Afghanistan. . . . Unfortunately, it is unused, unoccupied, and presumably will never be used for its intended purpose.” Commanders on the ground three years ago when the project was first proposed said it was not needed, and now that U.S. troops are pulling out of Afghanistan and on their way home, it’s even more of a white elephant.

“This is an example of what is wrong with military construction in general – once a project is started, it is very difficult to stop,” Sopko wrote. The unneeded building boasts theatre seating and first-class amenities for 1,500 people, almost four times the number currently deployed at the Camp Leatherneck base. As described in the Post article, it is a metaphor for the war itself – easy to launch, very hard to bring to an end.

In a letter to Defense Secretary Hagel, Sopko called upon the Pentagon to determine “all of the facts on how we reached this $34 million dilemma and what can be done to prevent it from happening again.” An investigation into the decision-making process has begun, and should provide answers about how a project of this magnitude got as far as it did without setting off alarm bells.

According to the Post, the structure got the go-ahead from military planners in South Carolina and at the Pentagon in 2009 after President Obama announced a surge of troops into Afghanistan. The commanding general on the ground in Helmand Province said a new building wasn’t necessary, that his plywood-walled headquarters was sufficient, but his advice was ignored.

By the time construction began in late 2011, Obama had announced the end of the surge and U.S. troops were drawing down. War is messy, and when things go wrong, historians attribute it to the fog of war. What happened at CampLeatherneck could be called the fog of bureaucracy. The challenge now is to establish the chain of custody for a project of no use and no benefit to anyone except the British firm that was awarded the contract by the Pentagon.

President Eisenhower warned of the military-industrial complex, where the Pentagon and the defense industry are so intertwined that it’s easy for military budgets to get bloated and out of control. That remains a concern, but in the case outlined in the inspector general’s report, there was pushback from the military commander at Camp Leatherneck, but he was overruled by higher-ups who probably never set foot in Helmand Province.

Finally, this spring U.S. generals on the ground in Kabul pulled the plug on the project before expensive computer equipment was installed. The available options now are to either hand the building over to the Afghans, or demolish it. Sopko told the Post that the building will probably be demolished because it’s too difficult and too expensive for the Afghans to maintain it. A sophisticated heating and air-conditioning system requires a lot of electricity, and fuel for generators is expensive. Complicating matters further, the building is wired for 110 volts when the Afghans use 220 volts, a fitting epilogue for what can only be termed a bureaucratic boondoggle.

© 2013 U.S. News Syndicate, Inc.

Distributed by U.S. News Syndicate, Inc.

END WASHINGTON MERRY-GO-ROUND

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