Monday, February 25, 2008

Contractor Cupidity and the Long, Late Arm of the Law

From the Chicago Tribune on February 21st came this story of indictments of KBR contractors for massive corruption in procuring and administering contracts before and during the occupation of Iraq.

Federal prosecutors in Rock Island have indicted four former supervisors from KBR, the giant defense firm that holds the contract, along with a decorated Army officer and five executives from KBR subcontractors based in the U.S. or the Middle East. Those defendants, along with two other KBR employees who have pleaded guilty in Virginia, account for a third of the 36 people indicted to date on Iraq war-contract crimes, Justice Department records show.

On Wednesday, a federal judge in Rock Island sentenced the Army official, Chief Warrant Officer Peleti "Pete" Peleti Jr., to 28 months in prison for taking bribes.

The article gives a mind-numbing account of the many ways in which the law was flouted, corruption flourished, criminal behavior was tolerated, and our troops were ill-served by the ones entrusted to provide for them.
A common thread runs through these cases and other KBR scandals in Iraq, from allegations the firm failed to protect employees sexually assaulted by co-workers to findings that it charged $45 per can of soda: The Pentagon has outsourced crucial troop support jobs while slashing the number of government contract watchdogs.

The dollar value of Army contracts quadrupled from $23.3 billion in 1992 to $100.6 billion in 2006, according to a recent report by a Pentagon panel. But the number of Army contract supervisors was cut from 10,000 in 1990 to 5,500 currently (emphasis added).

Last week, the Army pledged to add 1,400 positions to its contracting command. But even those embroiled in the frauds acknowledge the impact of so much war privatization.

"I think we downsized past the point of general competency," said subcontractor Christopher Cahill, who for a decade prepared military supply depots under LOGCAP. Now serving 30 months in federal prison for fraud, Cahill added: "The point of a standing army is to have them equipped."

I remember the mother of a soldier telling me a year ago that her son had paid exorbitant amounts for basic things like soda and snack foods. She and her retired Army husband were outraged and felt betrayed by the system they had spent their lives supporting.

As for Cahill's comments, they're his way of saying that while the cat was away the mice played. Somewhere in the midst of the current administration's worship of all things private sector was lost the understanding that vast power and access to resources without accountability breeds corruption.

But wait, there's more
By June, Seamans and fellow KBR procurement manager Jeff Mazon, a Country Club Hills resident, had executed subcontracts worth $321 million. At least one deal put U.S. soldiers at risk.

The Army LOGCAP contract required KBR to medically screen the thousands of kitchen workers that subcontractors like Tamimi imported from impoverished villages in Nepal, Pakistan, India and Bangladesh.

But when Pentagon officials asked for medical records in March 2004, Khan presented "bogus" files for 550 Tamimi workers ...

KBR retested those 550 workers at a Kuwait City clinic and found 172 positive for exposure to hepatitis A, Lang told the judge. Khan tried to suppress those findings, warning the clinic director that Tamimi would do no more business with his medical office if he "told KBR about these results," Lang said in court. The infectious virus can cause fatigue and other symptoms that arise weeks after contact.

Retesting of the 172 found that none had contagious hepatitis A, Lang said, and Khan's attorneys said in court that no soldiers caught diseases from the workers or from meals they prepared. It remains unclear if that is because the workers were treated or because they did not remain infectious after the onset of symptoms

A couple of things spring to mind upon considering this information. First, WHY was KBR looking for employees in Nepal, India, Pakistan and Bangladesh when it had a perfectly employable pool of people sitting right there in Baghdad? After all, we were liberating the Iraqis and making their way straight for democracy and all that; how come we didn't want to hire them to do the work and chose instead to import impoverished Muslims from another part of the world? Think that might have led to some resentment? Naw. I'm sure all those recently-liberated and unemployed Iraqi Shiites were happy to help out their South Asian Sunni brethren. Why, it didn't hardly feel like a foreign occupation at all. And as for the Sunni Iraqis, it was almost as if they were the ones being employed, what with Sunnis being one monolithic entity without national sensibilities or pride.

The second thing is how little oversight the corrupt KBR employees exercised over their subcontractor Tamimi, not even verifying that the workers employed by Tamimi met at least minimum health standards for food workers. These people aren't even real Americans, being willing as they were to risk the very health of the soldiers they were fleecing.

All I can say is that the Webb-McCaskill Commission can't get up and running soon enough to suit me. I look forward to a long line of prosecutions of those who did this to our military.

1 comment:

AnonymousIsAWoman said...

Catzmaw,

The dirty little secret in the federal community is how little oversight there is on all contracts. With a shrinking workforce, there have been instances of contractors overseeing the contracts of other contractors.

And so many of these contracts are no bid and are non competitive too.

It's a really bad situation.

Thank you for shedding some light on this.