Defense contractor KBR Inc, which is under criminal investigation in the electrocution deaths of at least two US soldiers in Iraq, has been awarded a US$35 million contract by the Pentagon to build an electrical distribution center and other projects in the country.
The announcement of the new KBR contract comes just months after the Pentagon, in strongly worded correspondence obtained by The Associated Press, rejected the company’s explanation of serious mistakes in Iraq and its proposed improvements. A senior Pentagon official, David Graff, cited the company’s “continuing quality deficiencies” and said KBR executives were “not sufficiently in touch with the urgency or realities of what was actually occurring on the ground.”
“Many within DOD [the Department of Defense] have lost or are losing all remaining confidence in KBR’s ability to successfully and repeatedly perform the required electrical support services mission in Iraq,” wrote Graff, commander of the Defense Contract Management Agency, in a Sept. 30 letter.
Graff rejected the company’s claims that it wasn’t required to follow US electrical codes for its work on US military facilities in Iraq. KBR has said it would cost an extra US$560 million to refurbish buildings in Iraq used by the US military, including former Iraqi president Saddam Hussein’s palaces, which among other problems are based on a 220-volt standard rather than the US 120-volt standard.
KBR announced last week it won a new US$35.4 million contract from the Army Corps of Engineers to design and build a convoy support center at Camp Adder in southern Iraq. It will include a power plant, electrical distribution center, water purification and distribution systems, wastewater and information systems and road paving.
Senator Byron Dorgan said the new KBR contract was inappropriate. Senator Bob Casey said he has formally asked the Corps of Engineers whether it was confident KBR could accomplish it and whether the Corps had any alternatives.
“This is hardly the time to award KBR a new contract for work they’ve already failed to perform adequately, and which puts US soldiers at even greater risk,” Dorgan said in a statement. “Ultimately, contractors must be held accountable, and so should those who continue to award these contracts.”
A KBR spokeswoman, Heather Browne, said the company was committed to providing quality services and would comply with the military’s requirements in its work on the Camp Adder contract.
Army criminal agents have reopened the death investigation of Staff Sergeant Christopher Lee Everett, 23, a member of the Texas Army National Guard. Everett was killed in September 2005 in Iraq when the power washer he was using to clean a vehicle short-circuited. KBR and another contractor, Arkel International, performed the electrical work on the device’s generator, according to a civil lawsuit filed by Everett’s family.
The AP previously reported that the Army has reclassified another soldier’s electrocution death as a negligent homicide caused by KBR and two of its supervisors. Staff Sergeant Ryan Maseth, 24, a Green Beret from Pittsburgh, was electrocuted in his barracks shower. An Army investigator said KBR’s contractor failed to ensure qualified electricians and plumbers did the work.