Tuesday, July 25, 2006

No Bids — No Quality — Just Friends

I am a great foe to favoritism in public life…
— Joseph Conrad, Lord Jim

It is time for an update on construction work in Iraq and elsewhere. Once again Parsons is in the news. Its forays into that arena are rarely mentioned except when accompanied by descriptions of its incompetency. The thing it has going for it is that it is from Texas. The thing that is going against it is that it can’t seem to do the work it’s assigned even though it’s one of the largest contractors in Iraq.

A few weeks ago evidence of Parsons’s incompetence was its failure to successfully complete a $243 million contract it had for construction of 150 health clinics in Iraq. In the fall of 2005, Parsons had assured the Army Corps of Engineers that was supervising the project, that 114 units would be completed before the end of the year. Instead, only 20 were completed. Parsons spent $60 million of the $243 million on its own management and administration. Health clinics was not its only failure.

Parsons had a contract for $99.1 million to build the Khan Bani Saad Correctional Facility North of Baghdad. The prison was to have been completed in June 2006. It was not. According to a spokesman for the Corps of Engineers, Parsons said the project could not be completed before September 2008 and would cost $13.5 million more than the $91 million for which the contract had been awarded. The contract was cancelled.

A Parsons’s spokeswoman who holds her company to a lower standard than do those with whom it contracts was quoted as saying: “We’re extremely proud of our dedicated employees who have performed very well under extremely difficult and dangerous circumstances.” It’s hard to imagine what she would have said if the company had fulfilled its obligations under the contract.

Parsons should not feel discouraged. Incompetence will not keep it from getting other contracts from the government. Dick Cheney’s friend, Kellogg, Brown and Root, the Halliburton subsidiary that received such glowing reports for its success at ripping off the taxpayer and the military during Mr. Cheney’s war in Iraq shows why. KBR’s incompetence in Iraq has proved no bar to its getting more government work back home.

In April it was disclosed that Mr. Bush is planning on building lots of new detention facilities. Mr. Bush was probably told by one of his advisors that during World War II the United States arrested a lot of Japanese living here and put them in isolated housing in far off places where they could do no harm. Not wanting to be less prepared in his war than we were in World War II, Mr. Bush decided contingency plans are need to build some detention facilities for immigrants and the contract has gone to Kellogg, Brown and Root (KBR).

According to the company, the facilities being panned are to be used should there be “an emergency influx of immigrants into the U.S.”. Nothing is being built right now. For now KBR gets $450,000 a year just to be ready to build prisons if the need suddenly arises. The Department of Homeland Security said an immigration emergency would include things like “humanitarian interventions, mass migrations, populations rapidly arriving in the U.S. It goes on to reassuringly state that: “in no event will any entity other than DHS declare an ‘immigration emergency.’”

People suspicious of this administration think it sounds like Mr. Bush is planning on building concentration camps, a concept probably explained to him by one of his staff. According to Clay Church, a spokesman for the Corps of Engineers “This contract has nothing to do with that whatsoever.”

Construction doesn’t start until the emergency does. Then KBR get $385 million over 5 years to build the facility. The Department of Homeland Security decides when that is. Why it takes 5 years to deal with an emergency that is now contemplated is not explained.

Responding to those who are critical of the fact that the contract was a no-bid contract and the fact that it went to a contractor who has earned a very bad reputation for its poor, if not dishonest, performance in Iraq, Mr. Church said the Army Corps of Engineers has been very “happy” with KBR’s work. (Had he been the spokesman when the New Orleans levies that made news in 2005 were built, he probably would have said the same thing about them.) Mr. Church said he didn’t know if there were any other companies that could meet the low standards set by KBR in its work, although those were not his exact words. There are probably people out there who could tell him had he opened the project up to bidding. One thing is clear from all this. The Army Corps of Engineers has a very low threshold of happiness-attainment.