DoD’s $43 Million Gas Station: An ‘Ill-Conceived’ Embarrassment That We Allowed

Michael McGrady Director of McGrady Policy Research
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There is no doubt that the mission of the Department of Defense (DOD) is to protect the national security of the United States, but what does defense have to do constructing gas stations in foreign countries?

The DOD is in the news for spending a whopping $43 million of taxpayer money on a compressed natural gas station in the middle of northern Afghanistan.

The office of the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) brought the expensive project to light in a recent report that delves into how DOD allowed for such a misuse of taxpayer dollars. SIGAR, in fact, labeled the project “ill-conceived.”

What people need to understand is that we allowed for such a misuse of funds to take place. The American people elected the representatives that passed the appropriations to fund such a project.

According to the SIGAR report, U.S. government officials sought to build a gas station in the city of Sheberghan. In 2011, interests were immediately sparked to extract natural gas resources in the region. The agency that took on this mission was the Task Force for Business and Stability Operations(TFBSO).

The task force, founded in 2006 to stabilize the post occupation economy of Iraq, moved shop to Afghanistan for similar reasons. The 2011 move to create a gas station was based on a2006 report from the U.S Geological Survey (USGS), which indicated that there was a plentiful deposit of “conventional petroleum resources” in northern Afghanistan.

“Crude oil, natural gas, and natural gas liquids/condensate (collectively called ‘petroleum’) resources are important for the redevelopment of Afghanistan’s infrastructure,” the USGS report reads.

The report concluded petroleum deposits existed near Sheberghan and in several other nearby regions, which were identified as excellent areas to develop the industry.

TFBSO ran with this perceived opportunity and then developed the program from there. However, no one would’ve suspected that the task force, which has been appropriated close to $800 million dollars, would misuse specific funds.

It is nice to note that the intention behind the gas station project was a very positive one. TFBSO wanted to commercialize and expand local economies by selling, refining, and beginning to end Afghan energy dependence from foreign countries. Thus, the project was a “no-brainer” at the time. Positive and productive nation-building goals implemented by the task force and DOD were the driving force behind such a project.

The project was supposed to cost under $3 million, per the contract with the engineering company that built the station. The $3 million contract was already well above the price to build an average gas station in the region, which is $500,000. The controversy comes into play when you examine how long it took and the final price tag.

According SIGAR, between 2011 and 2014, the total project cost $42.7 million. All the money, supposedly, went to oversight of construction and to “supervise” the initial operation of the station. Top military officials told SIGAR that the funds included, “approximately $12.3 million in direct costs and $30 million in overhead costs.”

Obviously, the final price of the project was astronomically greater than what was initially planned (the $3 million). What happened? Where did the money go, specifically? Who and what allowed for the misuse of the funds? Who’s to blame?

Bluntly, we may never know the answer to many of these questions. That’s the nature of the Defense Department; everything is done on a “need to know” basis.

However, all of the blame cannot — and I repeat, cannot — be placed on DOD’s shoulders. This is because everyone involved, in way, is at fault.

The American citizens elected the officials to write the legislation to authorize the operation of the Defense Department and the elected officials decide the appropriated funds from our tax dollars. President Barack Obama, elected to his post twice, signed the bill into law. Then Congress and the president entrusts the Defense Department to protect us and American interests abroad. The United States sought interests in the region, the task force moved on that fact, and therefore, developed a program that would construct a gas station at any cost.

By all means, the president, Congress, and SIGAR should hold the DOD accountable for mismanagement of funds. But $43 million is minimal, in comparison, to the already exorbitant funding national security receives.

According to the 2016 DOD budget report, released in February2015, the DOD is set to spend roughly $1 trillion to maintain daily operations alone.

This is the reality of the defense budget. Frankly, it is impossible to stop mismanagement in the world’s largest military and the Department of Defense being one of the largest employers in the world. We’ve allowed this, now we must accept it and find a way to prevent it from ever happening again.

Michael McGrady is a contributor to Red Alert Politics who has been featured in Human Events, The American Thinker, The Hill, and many other publications. He is also a political science undergraduate at the University of Colorado, at Colorado Springs.