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Paying to Rebuild Iraq

October 8, 2003 at 12:00 AM EDT


KWAME HOLMAN: Dozens of members of congress traveled to Iraq in recent weeks, to see firsthand the pace and progress of reconstruction. They made their visits in response to the president’s request for an additional $87 billion to continue U.S. operations there and in Afghanistan. California Republican Jerry Lewis:

REP. JERRY LEWIS: It’s very, very important for all of us to try to be patient. We would like to have the world change in the flash of an eyelash, but the fact is, it takes some time.

KWAME HOLMAN: But at a House Government Reform Committee hearing today, Pennsylvania Republican Don Sherwood, just back from Baghdad himself, demonstrated the impatience an increasing number of members feel over the reconstruction effort.

REP. DON SHERWOOD: We were at the Aldora power plant. And is there anybody here who can tell me what we are going to do with this monstrosity? We have this huge power plant, which doesn’t even have a 50- caliber shell in it, four huge turbines– one that is working relatively well, one that is working about 35 percent , and one that is shut down. Now, we didn’t cause this. I understand that. But it was a little surprising to me that with all our resources, we couldn’t get that thing cranked up a little better. That needs some management. That needs somebody to go in there and kick ass, and take names. It’s a mess.

MAJ. GEN. CARL STROCK: Sir, we have that.

KWAME HOLMAN: Major General Carl Strock was one-of-five witnesses testifying for the bush administration.

MAJ. GEN. CARL STROCK: Within the last month, we’ve increased generation in the country by about 1,000 megawatts. Aldoura is not yet on line, but it will be very shortly.

KWAME HOLMAN: But committee Democrats soon turned the focus to who was profiting from the reconstruction. District of Columbia Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton:

DEL. ELEANOR HOLMES NORTON: There are numerous press reports that now that Iraqi businesspeople are talking to the press about how they feel shut out of our contracting process, and they complain that they could do the work for many times less than the work is being done. So I’m trying to find out whether or not we have the capacity to make them understand our bidding process, and to translate their bids to meet our system.

MAJ. GEN. CARL STROCK: One of our problems early on was the fact that most of the infrastructure related companies in Iraq are state-owned enterprises, and as parts and extensions of the government, they suffered the same amount of destruction and devastation as the rest of the economy. The Bechtel Corporation did hold a session for all Iraqi contractors about two months ago, to explain the opportunities and processes to compete. And there are some challenges, many of which are associated with just the lack of communication in the country; the inability to even know when there are opportunities presented.

KWAME HOLMAN: Bechtel is one of two giant companies sharing nearly $3 billion in Iraq reconstruction contracts awarded by the Bush administration. The other is Halliburton, which Vice President Dick Cheney used to run. California Democrat Henry Waxman said he’s been frustrated in his attempts to get information about the contracts.

REP. HENRY WAXMAN: While the administration has declined to respond to basic requests about its contracts, information I have received from a variety of sources is painting a disturbing picture. It appears that big American contractors are receiving too much money for too little work, and too few opportunities are being afforded Iraqis.

KWAME HOLMAN: Illinois Democrat Danny Davis:

REP. DANNY DAVIS: Are there any ways to assure that American small businesses can interact with the Halliburtons and the Bechtels of the world, and get a piece of these large umbrella contracts?

TOM KOROLOGOS: The answer to that is that Bechtel and the big umbrella companies have held seminars, both in the United States and in Europe. At one that I recall, there were 2,500 subcontractors showed up.

KWAME HOLMAN: Tom Korologos is a senior advisor to the U.S. reconstruction effort.

TOM KOROLOGOS: Understand something else here. All the contractors that have come through Iraq, and by hopeful guidance by the coalition provisional authority, have been asked to make sure that Iraqis are put to work on these projects.

KWAME HOLMAN: More questions about the Iraq reconstruction contracts are expected tomorrow, when the House Appropriations Committee debates and votes on the president’s $87 billion request.