Independent Panel Seeks More Sustainability in US Projects in Afghanistan, Iraq

U.S.-backed projects in Iraq and Afghanistan that local governments could not finance or implement on their own could lead to billions of dollars worth of waste, according to a report by the U.S. Commission on Wartime Contracting in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The report notes that sustainability is a serious concern because most U.S.-funded projects in the two countries lack long-term staffing, technical support and funding plans even as U.S. military forces are expected to completely withdraw from Iraq by the end of the year and begin to leave Afghanistan in July.

“No matter how well a project or program has been set up and executed, it can turn into waste if we hand it over to a host government that can’t supply trained people to run it, pay for supplies, or perform essential maintenance,” Michael Thibault, co-chairman of the commission, said June 3 in a news release.

The commission’s report estimates that waste from one program in Afghanistan could reach up to $11 billion. It identifies several factors that it says contributed to the sustainability problem, including weak coordination, incomplete analysis, poor planning, overly ambitious goals and inadequate follow-through by U.S. officials.

“We’re seeing sustainment problems ranging from health clinics in Iraq to road building in Afghanistan,” Christopher Shays, also a co-chairman of the commission, says. “Unless government officials identify and address sustainment requirements and change or kill doomed programs, an enormous amount of taxpayers’ money will turn out to have been wasted. We’re raising a storm warning for Congress, the Executive departments, and the public.”

The report outlines four recommendations for the U.S. Agency for International Development and the State and Defense departments:

- Examine existing and completed projects to determine risks of “sustainment failure” and development strategies to address risks.- Redesign or cancel projects with little or no realistic prospect of becoming sustainable. - Ensure that new acquisition strategies and requirements that are handed over to host governments include detailed assessment of the government’s ability and willingness to support the programs.- Submit an annual report to Congress detailing an analysis of proposed and current projects and plans for mitigating sustainability risks.

Read more about U.S. development aid.

About the author

  • Ivy Mungcal

    As former senior staff writer, Ivy Mungcal contributed to several Devex publications. Her focus is on breaking news, and in particular on global aid reform and trends in the United States, Europe, the Caribbean, and the Americas. Before joining Devex in 2009, Ivy produced specialized content for U.S. and U.K.-based business websites.