The KBR Disaster In Iraq

Our guest blogger is Sen. Byron Dorgan (D-ND), Chairman of the Senate Democratic Policy Committee.

ap080711012023 The Senate Democratic Policy Committee held the 19th in its series of hearings on waste, fraud and corruption in Iraq and Afghanistan yesterday. What we heard was really stunning.

We learned that the Army’s biggest contractor in Iraq, KBR, received bonuses totaling $83.4 million for work done during 2007 under LOGCAP III Task Order 139, which included electrical wiring work throughout Iraq. According to the Army’s own criteria for performance bonuses, in order to properly receive such a bonus, the firm’s work was to have been “excellent.”

Witnesses told our committee KBR’s work was far from excellent. As they described it, it sounds more like a disaster:

— One witness was Eric Peters, a former KBR Master Electrician who worked in Iraq for KBR as recently as this year. He said he quit the company after determining that KBR was incapable of doing the electrical wiring work properly, did not care about the safety of its own employees, and sought to intimidate those who spoke up. Peters also noted that KBR hires third country nationals who are not electricians to do wiring work. Often, workers and supervisors don’t even speak the same language.

— Another witness was Jim Childs, also a Master Electrician. The Army hired him to inspect KBR’s wiring work in Iraq after I asked the Army to take a closer look at what KBR was doing. He told us KBR’s electrical wiring work in Iraq was the “most hazardous, worst quality work I have ever inspected. During my theatre-wide inspections, I concluded that roughly 90 percent of the new construction building work by KBR was not properly wired. This means that over 70,000 buildings in Iraq were not up to code.”

— Our third witness was the former Army contract manager who previously managed KBR’s LOGCAP III contract. He told us the $83.4 million bonus received by KBR was “highly inappropriate” and if he had not been forced out of his position managing that contract – after he refused to rubber stamp nearly a billion dollars in questionable KBR charges – he would have objected to awarding the bonus.

The sad story of Staff Sgt. Ryan Maseth, a Green Beret, really tells it all. He was electrocuted as he showered in a shower stall on a U.S. military base. His mother was told he was electrocuted because he carried an electrical appliance into the shower. She refused to accept that explanation and forced an investigation which determined that the real cause of Sgt. Maseth’s electrocution was faulty electrical wiring.

Did KBR move quickly to correct the wiring? Not according to Jim Childs, who told us that a full 10 months after Sgt. Maseth’s electrocution death, KBR still had not fixed the wiring problems to make the shower safe.

I intend to continue to pursue this issue. I want to know why KBR got these bonuses and who approved them. I also want to know what the Pentagon is doing to hold KBR accountable for its work in Iraq. Tens of millions of dollars in bonuses for slipshod, deadly wiring work sure isn’t holding anybody accountable for anything.

I intend to keep asking these questions, and more, until I get satisfactory answers. American taxpayers and American soldiers, who put their lives on the line, deserve no less.


Sen. Dorgan also posted a statement in reaction to yesterday’s hearing:

View reactions from other senators here.

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