On Tuesday, the departing U.S. defense secretary, Chuck Hagel, pleaded for the costly, but crucial, development of new bombers to keep our military in top shape.
Two days after Hagel’s speech at Whiteman Air Force Base, an audit with Hagel’s name in the header was released. It detailed where at least a half million dollars could be found for the successor to the B-2 bomber — admittedly a pittance toward even one of the planes’ expected cost.
The money paid for a firing range complex, used to train the Afghan forces taking over for U.S. troops, that “disintegrated” four months after completion. That’s according to the report issued by the government agency tracking how the Department of Defense spends the $104 billion pledged for Afghan reconstruction and stabilization.
The bricks were said to melt. Too much sand, too little clay. The report by the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction, or SIGAR, said the Pentagon failed to hold the Afghan contractor accountable for shoddy work and design despite seven on-site visits.
The simulated Afghan village is part of a larger National Police Training Center, crucial to Afghanistan’s stability as our troops continue to pull out of the country, having ended our official military role there last month.
The training site had to be torn down and rebuilt.
“The facility is not only an embarrassment, but, more significantly, a waste of U.S. taxpayers’ money,” SIGAR said.
Compared to the level of funds needed to design, build and maintain the bombers that Hagel is rightfully addressing, the failure of the firing range project is minuscule. But such waste sours the congressional and public willingness to spend on the military. Reports by SIGAR and other government auditing agencies are issued with stark regularity. Most go unseen by the general public.
Hagel announced his resignation in November. His visit was part of a farewell tour. He rightly pointed a finger at Congress for some of the failings.
“Sequestration is a mindless, irresponsible way to govern,” Hagel told service members gathered at Whiteman.
He is right. But so is a lack of oversight on funding already deployed. The hesitancy that Hagel fears from future members of Congress to fund the military can be nipped in part by adhering to recommendations by audits like SIGAR.
Our nation’s defense and the memories of the service members who died in Afghanistan deserve it.