More Taxpayer Waste for Afghan Gem Cutters
Policy + Politics

More Taxpayer Waste for Afghan Gem Cutters

Since 2010, the United States has poured about $700 million into a program intended to encourage economic development in Afghanistan. But recent reviews by a federal watchdog question whether that money is actually helping the war torn region at all.

The Taskforce for Business and Stability Operations, formed in 2010, was supposed to reduce unemployment and fostering economic growth in Afghanistan. But management issues and lax oversight are hampering its effectiveness--leaving millions of tax dollars vulnerable to waste.

In a letter to Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction, John Sopko, warned the secretary that his team is reviewing “troubling allegations” about “imprudent spending, profligate travel by employees and contractors and possible mismanagement” at the taskforce.

Related: U.S. Military Scrapping Billions Worth of Gear in Afghanistan

The auditors’ letter lists several examples, including a program meant to bolster Afghanistan’s gem industry. The IG found that the U.S. government is paying for Afghan jewelers to travel to Paris, Milan and India for three-month training sessions to help develop the country’s gem industry. The IG, for its part, questions whether spending on those trips was justified.

“Despite these expenditures, it is not clear to me that the gem industry program produced any positive and lasting economic development or increased employment in Afghanistan,” the auditors said in the report.

The taskforce has previously been under scrutiny by SIGAR and other auditors for management and oversight issues. Sopko has even questioned the agency’s purpose in the first place.

“We have gotten serious allegations about the management and mismanagement of that agency, as well as a policy question about what they were doing and whether they should have existed,” the auditor told reporters earlier this month. 

In the letter, SIGAR requests a number of documents needed in order to calculate exactly how much money may have been wasted on the program--including travel expense accounts, names of DoD officials that approved spending for the program, evaluations of the gem program and copies of all of the contracts awarded under the program.

Related: $100 Billion in Aid Squandered in Afghanistan

Why it Matters:

The U.S. is spending hundreds of millions of dollars on a program doesn’t seem to be working. What’s worse, the program has existed for four years and, like other DoD programs, has no way of being measured effectively. All this at a time when the U.S. is fighting the war against ISIS and resources for domestic programs are being cut.

The results of the investigation will be included in an upcoming audit, but if it’s like most other SIGAR reports, you can expect it to be as scathing.

Sopko and his team are known for being critical of the U.S. government’s reconstruction efforts in Afghanistan. Last month, the auditor called the government’s economic development efforts an “abysmal failure.” He’s also warned that the U.S. is failing to address at least seven major threats that could potentially undermine the entire $104 billion (and counting) reconstruction efforts in Afghanistan. See the list here.

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