DOD IG Launches Criminal Investigation of Afghan Uniform Contract

Afghan National Army soldiers stand in formation. The Pentagon has launched an investigation into the procurement of the ANA’s woodland camouflage uniforms. Defense Department photo

The Department of Defense Inspector General has launched a criminal investigation into the procurement of Afghan National Army uniforms, the Pentagon’s top investigator for Afghanistan reconstruction told a House panel Tuesday.

John Sopko, the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction, told the House Armed Services oversight and investigations subcommittee that the contracting mistakes in this case are so significant that “we believe it is prudent to review all [US] contracts related to the procurement of organizational clothing and individual equipment in Afghanistan.”

Sopko was called to testify after his office’s June report found that US officials managing the Afghan effort had approved a contract for ANA camouflage uniforms that were unnecessarily expensive and whose forest pattern was inappropriate for the Afghan fighting environment, which is largely desert.

In 2008, according to the report, Department of Defense officials issued a requirement that ANA uniforms make use of a proprietary Spec4ce Forest camouflage pattern developed and owned by a Canadian firm, HyperStealth. SIGAR found that since 2008 the uniforms, which also had extra features like zippers, cost US taxpayers $28 million more than uniforms that could have been produced using environment-appropriate, DOD-owned camouflage patterns. The report also projected that the uniform contract would cost the US $71 million over the next ten years.

Sopko told the subcommittee that SIGAR has not yet gotten to the bottom of the contracting decision. HyperStealth was given a “sole-source award,” he said, but that because of “poor oversight” and lack of records, US officials working on the contract had been “unable to determine the total amount of direct assistance spent on procuring ANA uniforms nor the amount of ANA uniforms purchased.”

Sopko said DOD officials told SIGAR that only HyperStealth patterns were presented to the Afghan ministry of defense and that “the ministry of defense liked this color, so we picked it.” Sopko also said the Afghan ministry “decided to have a more expensive uniform, a fancier uniform” that would look “more fashionable.”

Sopko said this contract was representative of broader problems with procurement in Afghanistan. He said the speed with which US officials complete assignments in-country and rotate out to other positions means that “no one is held accountable” for contracting mistakes. Those who complete faulty contracts are “not responsible for the screw-up because they’re not around when the screw-up is discovered.”

Better record-keeping could help, Sopko said, but US contracting policies need to be changed as well. US officials “get rewarded at the end of the year for how much money [they] spend on contract, not whether the contract is good or not.” He said swift accountability would also help. How many US officials “have actually lost their jobs because of wasting taxpayer dollars?” he asked the committee. “I bet you not one.”

The SIGAR investigation is “just in the beginning stage,” Sopko said, and he was not sure when it would arrive at any conclusions.