AFRICOM, Air Force Mismanaged $100 Million Drone Base Project in Niger, IG Says (excerpt)
A US Air Force C-130J lands at Air Base 201, Agadez, Niger. The Pentagon’s Inspector General reported Thursday that the military ineffectively planned, designed and built the $100 million base, and may have broken the law while doing so. (USAF photo)
STUTTGART, Germany --- The U.S. military may have broken the law when it mismanaged funds and ineffectively planned the construction of a $100 million drone base in Niger, the Pentagon’s Inspector General said in a report issued Thursday.
Now, the IG is calling upon the Pentagon and Air Force to launch a formal probe into how the project was handled and determine if laws and regulations were broken.
Last year, U.S. Africa Command began operating out of Air Base 201 in Agadez after years of delays due to construction problems.
The IG said the reason for the delays was that the military “did not effectively plan, design, and construct” the base and went outside the bounds of what Congress had approved for the site when it excluded runway shoulders in the project scope.
“Additionally, the Air Force bypassed congressional notification when it split the construction requirement for intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance operations into six operations and maintenance projects totaling $5.4 million,” the IG said.
The Air Force, which was in charge of the project, also potentially violated the Antideficiency Act when it acquired 12 permanent guard towers using procurement funds instead of military construction funds, the IG said. Moreover, the Air Force did not construct Air Base 201 infrastructure to meet Defense Department safety requirements, the report said. (end of excerpt)
Click here for the full story, on the Stars and Stripes website.
The objective of this evaluation was to determine whether the U.S. Air Force effectively planned, designed, and constructed Air Base 201 in Niger to provide airfield and base support infrastructure in support of U.S. Africa Command (USAFRICOM) operations.
Air Base 201 is a military installation in the desert in Agadez, Niger. When construction is complete, the base will consist of a new runway and hangars, living quarters and life support facilities, base roads, base utilities, base perimeter fence, and other infrastructure.
USAFRICOM tasked U.S. Air Forces in Europe–Air Forces Africa (AFAFRICA) to construct Air Base 201 in October 2013. AFAFRICA is the primary liaison between USAFRICOM and the military construction (MILCON) Program Manager, under the Air Force Civil Engineer Center, Europe Division–Design and Construction (AFCEC/CFED). The MILCON Program Manager had oversight and approval authority for construction scope, cost, and schedule changes. AFAFRICA planned and programmed Air Base 201 as a troop labor construction project, with on-site construction provided by the 31st Expeditionary Rapid Engineer Deployable Heavy Operational Repair Squadrons Engineers (31st ERHS).
MILCON is defined as all the work necessary to produce a complete and usable facility. DD Form 1391 is used to obtain congressional authorization and funding for MILCON projects costing over $6 million. MILCON scope of work, in terms of function, size, and quantity, may not be increased above the amount specified in the DD Form 1391 provided to Congress.
In November 2015, Congress approved $50 million of MILCON funding in the FY 2016 National Defense Authorization Act to construct the Air Base 201 airfield and base camp.
The Air Force completed the airfield and base camp to support ISR operations in May 2019. Construction to support ISR operations began during the first quarter of FY 2020.
We determined that USAFRICOM and the Air Force did not effectively plan, design, and construct Air Base 201 in Niger to provide airfield and base support infrastructure in support of USAFRICOM operations. Specifically, we identified the following problems.
-- The Air Force built runway shoulders without congressional authorization when it submitted a DD Form 1391 to Congress that excluded runway shoulders in the project scope. Furthermore, AFAFRICA significantly underestimated the project cost, which created risk that the Air Force would not complete the MILCON project.
-- The Air Force bypassed congressional notification when it split the construction requirement for ISR operations into six O&M projects totaling $5.4 million, with each O&M project cost ranging from $399,000 to $1.8 million. Because each portion of the project was under $2 million, the Air Force was permitted to use O&M appropriation. AFAFRICA representatives stated that they programmed the six O&M projects to meet USAFRICOM’s urgent operational timeline. However, all of the projects were known and each project on its own would not result in a “complete and useable facility,” which means the projects should have been combined and reported to Congress.
-- The Air Force potentially violated the Antideficiency Act when it acquired 12 permanent guard towers costing approximately $3.7 million, using Procurement funds instead of MILCON funds, which required Air Force approval and congressional notification. In addition, the Air Force constructed foundations meant for temporary guard towers that could potentially be unusable because the permanent guard towers required larger foundations.
-- USAFRICOM and the Air Force did not perform complete site surveys to gather information needed for design and construction of the airfield. Specifically, the Air Force did not conduct complete soil sampling and topographic analysis, which created airfield pavement compaction and drainage problems. The Air Force also experienced logistical problems such as material and equipment shortages during construction because the site survey did not identify sources of construction materials.
-- The Air Force did not construct Air Base 201 infrastructure to meet safety, security, and other technical requirements established in DoD, Air Force, and USAFRICOM directives. The Air Force also constructed a base perimeter fence that lacked the required without informing and requesting the required waiver from USAFRICOM. Furthermore, the Air Force installed solar airfield lighting that did not conform to the requirements to provide continuous uninterrupted visual airfield lights.
These problems occurred because USAFRICOM and the Air Force did not adequately oversee and coordinate with stakeholders on the delivery of Air Base 201. As a result, the airfield and base camp needed to support the USAFRICOM ISR mission was delayed by almost 3 years from the original planned date of completion. In addition, the problems that we identified relating to the aircraft rescue and firefighting facility, and airfield lights could lead to increased risk in safety and security. Furthermore, the construction of the infrastructure necessary to support has not been completed. To accept the risk associated with the lack of infrastructure, the Air Force approved temporary waivers in June 2019 to allow ISR operations at Air Base 201. However, operating without the infrastructure to support ISR increases the safety risk for personnel operating at Air Base 201.
-- We recommend that the AF/A4C Director of Civil Engineers update Air Force Instruction 32-1021 to identify oversight responsibilities when troop labor construction projects are planned and programmed at the major command level.
-- We recommend that the USAFRICOM Commander establish a coordination and decision-making process with key stakeholders for troop labor construction projects, including a forum to directly communicate with the military construction program manager, designer of record, construction provider, and base support integrator, as applicable.
-- We recommend that the AFAFRICA Commander:
* Submit congressional notification on scope changes for the runway on the DD Form 1391 for Air Base 201.
* Develop procedures to review, validate, and certify DD Forms 1391 at appropriate levels.
* Conduct a review of AFAFRICA records management to improve internal controls and maintenance of critical records on troop labor construction, planning, programming, and implementation.
* Conduct a review of the use of airfield solar lights, in coordination with the Air Force Installation Management Support Center, Engineering Support Division and the Air Force Civil Engineer Center, Operations Directorate, to determine whether airfield solar lights meet the intent of Air Force Engineering Technical Letter (ETL 11-27) and are adequate for operational safety at Air Base 201.
* Develop a plan with the 724th Expeditionary Air Base Squadron to address the deviation on aircraft rescue and firefighting services.
* Submit a waiver request to USAFRICOM Commander.
-- We recommend that the Assistant Secretary of the Air Force (Financial Management and Comptroller) initiate a preliminary review to determine whether the use of Procurement funds for the acquisition of the guard towers resulted in a potential Antideficiency Act violation and, if so, conduct a formal investigation and provide the results of the review to the DoD Office of Inspector General.
-- We recommend that the Under Secretary of Defense (Comptroller)/Chief Financial Officer, DoD, review the Air Force programming actions to determine whether the programming actions are in accordance with applicable appropriation laws and regulations.
Management Comments and Our Response
Both the USAFRICOM Chief of Staff, responding for USAFRICOM, and the AFAFRICA Commander disagreed with the overall finding, stating that USAFRICOM and the Air Force accomplished the construction of an ISR and C-17 capable airfield in an operationally challenging environment with changing requirements during the construction period.
We acknowledge the immense work and efforts put forth by USAFRICOM and the Air Force. However, the circumstances did not negate the Air Force’s responsibility to ensure that construction projects were programmed in accordance with appropriation laws and regulations; construction, operations, and security standards were adhered to; and the appropriate waivers were coordinated and approved by the appropriate authorities, as necessary.
The AFAFRICA Commander also disagreed that the Air Force split the construction requirement for ISR operations. The AFAFRICA Commander maintained that each project is a “complete and usable facility,” but did not provide additional information that addressed the requirements of the GAO appropriation guide. Therefore, we did not change our finding that AFAFRICA split multiple projects that were required to be combined into a single project.
The AFAFRICA Commander also disagreed that the Air Force potentially violated the Antideficiency Act when it accounted for the permanent guard towers as equipment and acquired them with Procurement funds. The AFAFRICA Commander stated that the basis of the finding of cost, weight, time to erect and foundation requirements can be applied to assets that the DoD uses and procures as equipment. However, AFI 32-1032 stated that a guard tower structure is considered a real property construction if it is permanently installed and not relocatable in practice. Based on the description in AFI 32-1032, we considered cost, weight, time to erect, and foundation requirements as critical factors in concluding that the permanent guard towers were real property construction and should have been acquired with MILCON funds. Therefore, we did not change our finding that AFAFRICA acquired permanent guard towers without congressional notification.
The AFAFRICA Commander further disagreed that there was lack of oversight and coordination in the planning, design, and construction of Air Base 201.The AFAFRICA Commander stated that oversight of planning, design, and construction solutions were discussed and approved at the appropriate levels during key stakeholder meetings. However, AFAFRICA did not provide additional information to explain how the oversight and coordination problems in the report were addressed through the key stakeholder meetings.
This report contains ten recommendations. For eight of the ten recommendations, the proposed actions in the management comments, such as the update to the Air Force Instruction on oversight responsibilities for troop labor construction projects, review of AFAFRICA’s DD Form 1391 validation procedures, and the Under Secretary of the Defense (Comptroller)/Chief Financial Officer, DoD, review of the Air Force programming actions, met the intent of the recommendations, and are resolved but will remain open until we verify that corrective actions were completed. Actions taken on one of the ten recommendations, to develop a plan addressing the deviation on aircraft rescue and firefighting services, were completed during the evaluation and the recommendation was closed.
In addition, one recommendation remains unresolved. Specifically, the USAFRICOM Chief of Staff, responding for USAFRICOM, disagreed with our recommendation to establish a coordination and decision-making process for troop labor construction projects, stating that the USAFRICOM J4 has effective methods in place to communicate with all stakeholders. However, we found that the communications methods that were in place were not effective because key stakeholders stated that their interaction with USAFRICOM personnel was limited and they often received new USAFRICOM requirements that were not based on USAFRICOM official taskings.
Furthermore, we did not find evidence that USAFRICOM J4 recommended policies and priorities for construction and procurement of construction materials, such as the policy on the use of solar airfield lights and procurement of permanent guard towers. Therefore, the recommendation is unresolved. We request that the USAFRICOM Commander provide comments in response to the final report.
This report is a result of Project No. D2019-D000PT-0112.000.
Click here for the full report (72 PDF pages) on the DoD IG website.