There are nearly infinite possibilities when it comes to defrauding the federal government. You can bill for things never done, or you do something and bill for it twice. You can submit a fake invoice, or you can cause a third party to submit a fake invoice on your behalf. If the government is paying for something, you can be certain that someone is trying to find a way to cheat the government and stick the taxpayer with the bill. That said, the Qesmatullah Nasrat Construction Company (QNCC) found a new way to cheat the U.S. Government: they were hired to build a police station in Afghanistan–instead, they built a sand castle.
The Office of the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) just released a report, providing a rare and insightful look at how a boldly fraudulent effort resulted in the theft of half a million dollars. Wardak Province is located in central Afghanistan near Kabul, and has served as the location for several clashes between encroaching Taliban fighters and the U.S. and Afghan troops who serve to protect it. In 2012, to better secure the area and to provide an improved training ground for Afghan police officers, the Federal Government awarded QNCC a $456,669 contract to build a dry fire range, allowing police recruits to take part in advanced training exercises. QNCC claimed to have finished construction several months later, and were paid in full for its supposed efforts. After all, a contracting officer had conducted seven on-site inspections and reported that the project was “100 percent complete, with no deficiencies or missing items noted.”
There was only one flaw. Four months after the building was constructed, it began to melt.
As anyone who has ever done construction knows, good work takes time. Additionally, as everyone who has ever been to the beach knows, sand is lighter than brick. QNCC decided to save both time and labor, and decided to construct the buildings out of bricks made of sand. The buildings would then pass a cursory inspection, but whereas brick is impervious to water, sand merely melts. This problem was exacerbated by the fact that nearly every other aspect was similarly shoddy, so poorly built roofs and inadequate drainage systems allowed water to collect and dissolve the bricks even faster.
By the time SIGAR’s inspectors reached Wardak, the entire dry fire range was experiencing massive leaks as the walls continued to crumble. The structures were deemed to be entirely worthless, and repairs did not appear to be possible. Instead, the buildings were demolished, and the dry fire range must now be built all over again at a substantial cost to the U.S. taxpayer.
While this fraud is entertaining because it is both brazen and absurd, it is but a drop in the bucket when it comes to fraud in Afghanistan, or against the Armed Forces in general. To date, approximately $753.3 billion has been allocated to the war in Afghanistan since 2001, with $89.1 billion in 2014. Some of that money has been well spent, but early reports suggest that billions of dollars have been stolen. This type of fraud won’t be rooted out without help from average citizens and whistleblowers. Until then, SIGAR and other investigators will continue to uncover similar examples, long after the money is gone.