By Ray Locker
WASHINGTON — When it comes to military spending, $5.4 million isn’t much money, but a report released Monday by the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction shows the wasted money on incinerators for a base in Afghanistan goes beyond accounting.
It meant U.S. troops were put at risk.
The report said the Army Corps of Engineers needs to conduct an investigation to determine whether the acceptance of an incinerator to be used at Forward Operating Base Sharana in
Afghanistan and the payment of $5.4 million to the contractor requires any action against the corps’ contracting officers.
Instead of being able to use the new incinerators, troops at FOB Sharana had to burn solid waste in open-air burn pits, a health hazard the new incinerators were meant to stop. The Pentagon’s Central Command issued an order in 2011 to stop using the open-air pits, but inspectors found such pits still in operation at Sharana in May.
As USA TODAY’s Kelly Kennedy has reported repeatedly, burn pits have caused health problems for thousands of U.S. troops in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the government’s record of stopping the pits and caring for veterans harmed by them has been marked by fits, starts and wasted money.
According to Monday’s report, the Army corps awarded a $5.6 million contract in September 2009 to Denver-based International Home Finance & Development LLC to build the incinerators. “At the time the contract was awarded, the base was using open-air burn pit operations to dispose of its solid waste,” the report said.
Incinerators had been placed at other bases in Afghanistan for several reasons, the report said, including “the possible health hazard to base personnel from emissions generated by open-air burn pits use to dispose of solid waste material.”
But a May 20 inspection at the base showed that two of the incinerators weren’t working and that the project had experienced “significant construction delays.” By Jan. 15, the report said, “there had been 896 days of delays.”
“If the incinerator facility had been put into operation in August 2010, as planned, FOB Sharana would have been able to close its open-air burn pit,” the report concluded. “However, because of the delays and eventual acceptance of an unusable incinerator facility, base personnel faced continued exposure to potentially hazardous emissions, and $5.4 million of U.S. taxpayer dollars could have been put to better use.”