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GAO: Kabul US embassy construction faces cost overruns

WASHINGTON (AP) — Construction at the U.S. embassy in Kabul, Afghanistan, has been plagued by delays and cost overruns that may have affected security, the Government Accountability Office said Thursday.

But the Obama administration said the surge in U.S. forces years ago and now the subsequent drawdown of American personnel, among other factors, forced adjustments to the project.

“It is unrealistic to expect the development of a static master plan that would have captured all requirements at the beginning of an eight-year project,” Lydia Muniz, director of the State Department’s overseas buildings operations, told the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee.

Lawmakers countered that war is, by nature, fluid.

“The added costs should have been baked in,” said Rep. Stephen Lynch, D-Mass., a committee member. “We shouldn’t be shocked that a war broke out. There’s been a war going on there for 10 or 12 years.”

Costs for two construction contracts have increased by about 27 percent to $792.9 million, and completion has been delayed three years, the agency said. Despite the embassy’s expansion, the State Department “has no security standards tailored to those facilities,” the GAO said. The State Department inconsistently applied alternative security measures, the report said.

The report recommended that the State Department consider setting up security standards or guidance for temporary buildings in conflict zones.

The GAO is the investigative arm of Congress.

The auditors reported that all told, the State Department has invested or plans to invest $2.17 billion in its facilities in Kabul, a dangerous city with constantly changing security threats. Since 2002, State has built more than $100 million in temporary buildings to accommodate a dramatic increase in staffing — followed by a gradual drawdown. The temporary buildings are intended for only a few years’ use, but by the time the construction is completed in 2017, GAO reported, the temporary facilities will be as much as a decade old.

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