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Defense Department spent $34 million on unused facility amid furlough panic

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A $34 million military facility in Afghanistan will be demolished without ever having been used, while 650,000 Defense Department employees have been furloughed this week.

The 64,000-square-foot headquarters in southwestern Afghanistan was commissioned in 2009 after President Obama announced a new surge in southern Afghanistan. Despite objections from the top Marine commander in Helmand, the plans went on and construction began in November 2011, The Washington Post reports, although the completion of the surge was announced in June 2011.

Commanders in Afghanistan will not move into the new facility as forces are being withdrawn. Less than 400 headquarters-level staff are now present at the base, just over a quarter of the 1,500 staff the headquarters was built for.

Senior military commanders in Afghanistan made multiple requests that plans for building the facility be halted, but to no avail. Officers continued to issue contracts to companies eager to work on costly projects. Although construction did not begin until 2011, military officers determined in May 2010 that the headquarters was unnecessary.

An Army general told The Washington Post that “there was never any justification to build something this fancy,” and a Marine general confirmed to the paper that it was “better appointed than any Marine headquarters in the world.”

Earlier this week John Sopko, the special inspector general for Afghanistan reconstruction, sent a letter to Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel detailing the building’s preventable waste. Sopko wrote that the building is “unused, unoccupied and presumably will never be used for its intended purpose.”

The facility may be demolished, having never been occupied, or handed over to the Afghan government. If the building is given to the government, Sopko warned, it would require a “major overhaul of existing systems,” leading U.S. military officials the special inspector general interviewed to predict the facility would be torn down instead.

The letter detailing the waste was released the same day that Department of Defense began a period of furloughs, juxtaposing the Sopko’s allegations of waste with the Pentagon’s efforts to cut spending. As a result of sequestration spending cuts, civilian defense employees deemed noncritical will be subject to 11 days with no work and no pay, amounting to a 20 percent pay cut over the next 11 weeks. The furloughs are expected to save the department $1.8 of the $40 billion in spending cuts required of the department this fiscal year.

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