(FinalCall.com) – The apparent U.S. victory in its attack on Iraq to oust Saddam Hussein–thus providing U.S. companies access to the country’s vast oil supplies and perhaps eliminating Israel’s strongest regional threat–has emboldened the Bush administration.
The administration has belittled the earlier opposition of France, Russia and Germany to a U.S. attack on the Muslim country, hinting that they will not share in the spoils. The Bush team also suggests that the victory means that the United Nations, which did not back the U.S., will serve primarily humanitarian needs in the country.
Unfortunately, the administration also is sending strong signals to Syria that she’d better get in line with U.S. desires, or she may be next.
Needless to say, the situation in Iraq and the region is still hot, tense and extremely dangerous. Congress and the American public now must keep a watchful eye on and be vocal about events there so that the Bush administration does what it is supposed to do–return authority over the country back to the Iraqi people–and insure that unwise moves are not made that would cause things to spin out of control and engulf the region in a much broader war.
One place that the microscope has shown in recent days is in the awarding of contracts to U.S. corporations that will help to rebuild the country.
In one particular case, two congressmen, Rep. Henry Waxman of California, the top Democrat on the House Government Reform Committee, and Rep. John Dingell (D-Mich.) want the General Accounting Office (GAO), the investigative arm of Congress, to determine whether a subsidiary of Haliburton received preferential treatment in getting Pentagon contracts. Haliburton is the company that Vice President Dick Cheney once headed.
The subsidiary, Kellogg Brown & Root (KBR), was asked to develop plans to restore Iraq’s oil infrastructure based on an existing contract with the company that was awarded in December 2001. In a letter to Rep. Waxman, Lt. Gen. Robert B. Flowers, the Corps of Engineers commander, said it would have been “a wasteful duplication of effort” to invite other contractors to bid on a job that was a “highly classified requirement.” The two-year contract reportedly is worth $7 billion.
The arrangement sounded odd to Rep. Waxman for several reasons. One, it raises the question of when KBR was asked to develop the plan (to fight oil well fires) and when the decision was made to implement it. The Congressman acknowledged that it may have been valid to grant a contract without competition for emergency war work, but “it is harder to understand Ã‰ what the rationale would be for a sole-source contract that has a multi-year duration and a multi-billion dollar price tag.”
And there was one other thing. The Congressman said the federal government has awarded KBR work worth more than $624 million from October 2000 through March 2002 and there had been problems, including:
- In 1997, the GAO found that KBR billed the Army for questionable expenses for work in the Balkans, including charges of $85.98 per sheet of plywood that cost $14.06.
- A year 2000 follow-up report on the Balkans work that found inflated costs, including charges for cleaning some offices up to four times a day.
- $2 million in fines paid in February 2002 to resolve fraud claims by a former employee that KBR defrauded the government of millions of dollars by inflating prices for repairs and maintenance involving work at Fort Ord, Calif.
Among other questions, the congressman wants to know: Why did the Army Corps issue a two-year, $7 billion contract to perform work that is intended to be short term and limited in nature?; how soon after the end of the fighting does the Army Corps expect to replace the KBR contract with a competitively issued contract or contracts?; and were there other companies that had the security clearance to perform the work?
It is said that the spoils of war go to the victor, but should the American public continue to be pilfered? Raising the right questions will help to protect the public interest even in victory.