Tuesday, June 13, 2006
“I know how you start a fire — how do you start a flood?”
— The owner of a burned out lumber yard talking with the owner of a 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.
One of the hallmarks of the Bush administration has been the creation of situations in which the assistance of large contractors is required to fix what Bush broke. Once hired they are left to do their work without interference from the meddlesome feds who, 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 are legion-beginning in Iraq, traveling through New Orleans and now ending up at the other end of the United States in the fence construction project. 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.
Incompetence and fraudulent billing first came to light in Iraq when the antics of Dick Cheney’s friends and former colleagues at Halliburton’s Kellogg Brown and Root, now called KBR, ripped off the American taxpayer. Among its myriad ruses was overcharging by $27.4 million for food served U.S. troops in Iraq, the receipt of kickbacks by two KBR employees from a Kuwaiti subcontractor who was permitted to provide services to U.S. troops, and so forth.
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 prime contractor was a company called Parsons.
The program began in 2004 and as of the date of the report none of the five clinics that was to have been built in Kirkuk had been built and only 20 out of a planned 150 across Iraq had been built. In his report, Stuart Bowen, the Inspector General, 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 1 ½ years 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 that 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 included $75.7 million for rebuilding the Fatah pipeline crossing, the point at which 15 pipelines cross the Tigris river and is the main link between the oil fields and points of distribution. KBR had a geology report warning that before doing any drilling required for rebuilding the pipelines, extensive underground testing would be required. A geologist who saw the report said: “No driller in his right mind would have gone ahead” without the testing. KBR is not in its right mind. It is in the taxpayers’ pockets. It drilled without testing and because of soil conditions of which it was unaware, when the $75.7 million had been spent, not one pipeline crossed the Tigris. Explaining its failure to heed the geologic report a spokesman said it was too general to serve as a warning. For a fuller description of this event the reader can go to the April 30 NYT article entitled “The Money Pit.”
The foregoing is exemplary-not comprehensive. There are weekly reports of fraud and incompetence by Mr. Bush’s friends in Iraq. Most of them get paid anyway.
Mr. Bush is not responsible for Hurricane Katrina and the ability of Mr. Bush and his cronies to take advantage of it by awarding work to cronies and ripping off the taxpayer for incompetent work is nothing more than an incidental benefit of the disaster. No-bid contracts were awarded Mr. Bush’s old friends from Iraq, KBR. Fluor Enterprises Inc., one of four companies awarded no bid contacts following Katrina, each estimated to be worth $100 million, contributed more than $900,000 to Republican causes since 2000. 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.