Federal and contractor management failures are to blame for delays and cost overruns on a $300-million powerplant project in Afghanistan, says a new report by the U.S. Special Inspector General of Afghanistan Reconstruction. The 105-megawatt, dual-fuel Tarakhil Power Plant near Kabul was supposed to be finished by last April. It is now expected to be completed by March 31, a year late and about $40 million over budget.

The Jan. 20 report blames the U. S. Agency for International Development and lead contractor Black & Veatch Corp., Overland Park, Kansas. It notes that, “under pressure of political urgency,” the original statement of work lacked specific deliverables or deadlines. Instead, the project ran on a string of task orders without an established schedule, according to the report. Land ownership issues took nearly a year to resolve, and between award in July 2007 and December 2008, the project underwent 15 contract modifications. Black & Veatch spokesman Carl Petz says the budget increased as scope was defined. The initial estimate of $125 million was for 18 diesel generators in an existing plant. The final plan called for a new facility costing $260 million.

The approval process was slow, says the report. One modification took two months to approve. The report criticized Black & Veatch for delays in subcontractor award and mobilization. Black & Veatch’s subcontract with Symbion Power LLC, Washington, D.C., was signed three months later than planned. Symbion says it was unable to fully mobilize until Black & Veatch finished site work in September 2008, six months later than planned.

Symbion had difficulty finding qualified labor and was “slow to respond” to a request that it use more foreign labor. But when foreign workers were eventually brought in, they had only tourist visas and were not allowed to work.

The plant achieved full output in December, although SIGAR is concerned the diesel fuel is too costly for Afghans to afford and that Afghans may lack the technical skills to keep the plant operating.