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Yelling Fire, Crying Wolf?


“I know how you start a fire-how do you start a flood?” – Conversation between the owner of a burned-out lumber yard talking with the owner of flooded furniture store – both heavily insured.

It’s all becoming clear – not that Mr. Bush has any responsibility for starting Hurricane Katrina. His responsibility began where the hurricane left off. And it proved as much of a windfall for his friends as the war in Iraq. But Katrina is old news. Next on the agenda? A fence for the Mexican border.

One of the hallmarks of the George W. Bush administration has been the creation of situations in which the assistance of large contractors is required to fix whatever Bush broke. Once hired they are left to do their work without interference from the meddlesome oversight of the federal government, which Republican lore has it, wouldn’t know how to supervise even if given the opportunity. The stories of big business doing well by doing worse under this White House are legend – beginning in Iraq, traveling through New Orleans and now ending up at with the planned construction of a fence along the Mexcan border. Of course the incompetence and over-billing of those constructing the fence cannot yet be known since as of this writing the work has scarce begun. It can only be anticipated.

But there’s plenty of reason to be cynical. Just look at the numbers. Incompetence and fraudulent billing first came to light in Iraq when the antics of Dick Cheney’s friends and former colleagues at Halliburton’s subsidiary Kellogg Brown and Root, now called KBR, ripped off the American taxpayer. Among its myriad ruses were overcharging by $27.4 million for food served U.S. troops in Iraq and the receipt of kickbacks by two KBR employees from a Kuwaiti subcontractor who was permitted to provide services to U.S. troops.

On April 30, the New York Times reported that the United States Army Corps of Engineers had been responsible for supervising a $243 million program to build 150 health care clinics in Iraq. The contractor for that project was a Texas-based company named Parsons.

This program began in 2004 but as of the date of the report none of the five clinics that was to have been built in Kirkuk had actually been built. Only 20 out of a planned 150 clinics across Iraq had been built. In his report, Stuart Bowen, the The Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction, focuses much of the blame on lack of oversight by the Corps of Engineers. He also faults the contractor. He said that the Corps didn’t realize until a year after the project started that Parson and its subcontractors had serious problems with completing the project. In response Brig. Gen. William H. McCoy Jr. of the Corps of Engineers said the fault lay with Parsons which had assured him, in the fall of 2005, that 114 of the centers would be completed by December.

Another New York Times tale from Iraq concerns a $2.4 billion no-bid contract KBR won for Iraqi reconstruction efforts. That bid included $75.7 million for rebuilding the Fatah pipeline crossing, the point at which 15 pipelines cross the Tigris river – the main link between the oil fields and points of distribution. KBR had a geology report warning that extensive underground testing would be required before doing any drilling required for rebuilding the pipelines. A geologist who saw the report said: “No driller in his right mind would have gone ahead” without the testing. Well, KBR is not in its right mind. It’s in the taxpayers’ pockets. It drilled without testing and because of soil conditions of which it was unaware (because it hadn’t tested) it spent $75.7 million had been spent without building one pipeline across the Tigris. Explaining its failure to heed the geologic report a Corps spokesman said it was too general to serve as a warning.

The foregoing is exemplary – not comprehensive. There are weekly reports of fraud and incompetence by President Bush’s friends in Iraq. Most of them get paid anyway.

Now Mr. Bush has come up with another way to benefit his friends. It’s called a fence. It will be built along our Southern border with Mexico

No sooner did Mr. Bush announce fence plans than it was announced that major military contractors, many of whom have covered themselves in glory and money in Iraq and Louisiana, will get the contracts to build the fence and provide the equipment to do the monitoring. As of this writing it is not known who among them will get the contracts. I can guess. Stay tuned.

Share  Posted by Christopher Brauchli at 9:31 AM | Permalink

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