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IG: Army's Failed Incinerator Left Troops Exposed

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A special inspector general is chastising Army engineers for the mismanagement of a faulty solid waste incinerator project that resulted in prolonged exposure of troops in Afghanistan to health hazards from unauthorized burn pits.

Army Corps of Engineers paid $5.4 million for a contractor-built solid waste incinerator at Forward Operating Base Sharana, Afghanistan that was plagued by delays, electrical problems and has never been used, according to a Dec. 16 report from the Office of the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction.

"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. 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," the report states.

The use of open-air burn pits has been a controversial issue for the U.S. military throughout the war. The Defense Department authorizes burn pits for contingency operations when bases are first established, but Central Command regulations state "that when a base exceeds 100 U.S. personnel for 90 days, it must develop a plan for installing waste disposal technologies, such as incinerators, so that open-air burn pit operations can cease," the report states.

In addition to its findings, SIGAR also criticizes the Corps of Engineers for its lack of action to correct the problem.

The report recommended that an inquiry be conducted to determine if any actions should be taken against the contracting officers responsible for the project.

The Corps of Engineers conducted an inquiry and "has concluded that no contracting officers assigned to provide oversight on this contract failed to appropriately perform their assigned duties and, as a result, that no action will be taken against them," the report states.

As a result, SIGAR is not satisfied with the Corps of Engineers and questions "the thoroughness of USACE's assessment and the conclusions it reached."

When the facility was turned over to its U.S. military customer in December 2012, the contractor charged with running it estimated it would cost about $1 million -- almost 19 percent of the total project cost -- to fix the electrical deficiencies it identified, the report states.

Also, the Corps of Engineers does not question the report's findings that these deficiencies posed a safety hazard, but instead notes that the problems were never fixed because the incinerator facility was not intended to be used and was scheduled to be deconstructed upon closure of FOB Sharana, the report states.

"We remain troubled that USACE paid the contractor in full for a facility that had $1 million in construction deficiencies, experienced significant delays, and was never used," the report states. "Therefore, we question the accuracy of USACE's conclusions that the facility was properly transferred and that the USACE contracting personnel performed their assigned duties on the contract, and we request that USACE provide to SIGAR within 15 days all supporting documentation for these conclusions."

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Afghanistan Matthew Cox
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