The 10 Worst Post-9/11 Military Contracting Boondoggles
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After three years, the bipartisan Commission on Wartime Contracting completed its business this week. In its final report to Congress  (PDF), it estimates that the federal government has lost  between $31 and $60 billion to contractor fraud and waste since the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq started. "The government was not prepared to go into Afghanistan in 2001 or Iraq in 2003 using large numbers of contractors, and is still unable to provide effective management and oversight of contract spending," said  commission co-chairman Michael Thibault.
Beyond its bureaucratic title ("Inattention to contingency contracting leads to massive waste, fraud, and abuse"), the most interesting chapter of the commission's 248-page report reads like a greatest-hits list of expensive bloopers that make that famous $600 Pentagon toilet seat look like a bargain. In ascending order of egregiousness, here are the top 10 war-contractor boondoggles detailed in the report:
10. Welfare for warlords: When the Pentagon hired Afghan big-rig drivers to transport supplies as part of its Host Nation Trucking program, it forgot to guarantee the truckers' safety. So the truckers spent as much as 20 percent of their contract money paying off local bad guys for protection. A 2010 congressional report titled Warlord, Inc.  (PDF) concluded that "The HNT contract fuels warlordism, extortion, and corruption, and it may be a significant source of funding for insurgents."
9. The world's most expensive road: In 2007, US planners decided to pave a 64-mile mountain road  between the Afghan towns of Khost and Gardez. They figured it would take $69 million to complete, but the cost swelled to $176 million. Much of that was spent on security, including a lot that went to a local big-swinger known as "Arafat," who's now believed to have been working for the insurgents. In May, the New York Times reported  that "a stretch of the highway completed just six months ago is already falling apart and remains treacherous."
8. This old base: In the fall of 2007, the Air Force gave $18 million to contractor CH2M HILL for construction work at Camp Phoenix, an Army installation in Afghanistan. The firm hired a shady subcontractor who didn't pay his workers and fled the country with $2 million, which he used to build himself some villas abroad. The unpaid workers walked off with a bunch of generators and other materials. The delays left hundreds of NATO troops without suitable housing for a year and a half. When the contracting commission's Thibault visited the soldiers in their temporary digs, they alerted him (PDF) to the shoddy electrical work: "I just walked in the room and I'm talking to some of the people living there and they say, 'Sometimes when you put the plugs in, if you don't have the right extension, it's just like a sparkler.'"
7. Rent-a-ripoff: Coalition bases in Iraq and Afghanistan tend to be big and rugged, so many units rent locally owned four-wheel-drives for troops to get around the installations. A 2010 survey of US forces in Afghanistan found  (PDF) that the Army was spending $119 million annually to lease about 3,000 cars—roughly $40,000 a year per car. Last year, the General Services Administration found that the military "could lease and maintain 1,000 vehicles for about $19 million per year," or 16 percent of what it had been paying. Nevertheless, the Army still considers paying a premium for rental cars to be strategically necessary; it's even listed as "civic support" in a manual titled " Money as a Weapon System " (PDF).