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The Echoes of Reconstruction Rhetoric Near and Far

Christopher Brauchli

And be those juggling fiends no more believe'd,
That palter with us in a double sense;
That keep the word of promise to our ear
And break it to our hope.

-Shakespeare, Macbeth

If people in New Orleans and environs are feeling depressed at the pace of reconstruction they should take heart from Iraq. Unlike New Orleans, Iraq has not dropped off George Bush's radar screen and nonetheless things continue to go badly on the reconstruction front.

According to the most recent quarterly report by Stuart Bowen Jr., the special inspector general for Iraq reconstruction, there is precious little to show for the $21 billion Congress put into the Iraq Relief and Reconstruction fund created in 2003. Eighty percent of the money has been paid out. Seventy five million has been spent to rebuild the pipelines crossing the Tigris River at the Fatah pipeline crossing and not one pipeline has made it across. Parsons Corporation was paid $243 million for construction of 150 medical clinics. It completed 20 of the clinics. It received $72 million for construction of a police college in Baghdad that had to be closed because of sewage leaking from the ceiling.

A recent report describes a camp for housing police trainers that has never been used by anyone but has an Olympic size swimming pool. DynCorp International was paid $43.8 million for the construction. The Iraqi Ministry of Interior ordered not only the swimming pool but also 20 VIP trailers. In response to this and other reports of poor oversight, the State Department said it is working to improve controls. It is sort of too bad that the controls are being imposed when there's only 20% of the money left to spend. As soon as the committed funds have been spent, Mr. Bowen can leave his post. That would please Duncan Hunter, the California Republican who chairs the House Armed Services Committee.

Mr. Duncan tried to get rid of Mr. Bowen in 2006. He did it by inserting a provision in the military authorization bill that Mr. Bush signed in mid-October 2006 eliminating the Office of the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction effective October 1, 2007. According to Josh Holley, the spokesman for the committee (who is also on Mr. Mr. Hunter's staff) the only reason for adding that provision to the bill was to return to a non-wartime footing in Iraq and let the inspector generals in other agencies handle the investigations being conducted by Mr. Bowen. Mr. Holly didn't notice that Iraq was a dollar shy of being on what one would describe as a "non-wartime" footing.

When asked about the attempts to close the office none of the members of Congress who commented knew why the provision had been inserted. Congress has taken steps to resuscitate Mr. Bowen's mandate.

Katrina's victims are probably thinking the Iraqis don't have much to complain about. Although $110 billion was appropriated to help them rebuild, it is not being disbursed any more effectively in their part of the world than the $23 billion is being dispensed in Iraq. Tale after tale describes problems affecting New Orleans and other areas devastated by Katrina. The most recent is the news about 34 water pumps installed in New Orleans by Moving Water Industries Corp of Deerfield Beach, Fl.

Moving Water Industries supplies flood-control equipment all over the world. The pumps it supplied New Orleans were defective. Maria Garzino, a Corps mechanical engineer, sent a 72-page memorandum to Col. Lewis Setliff III, who is in charge of rebuilding flood protection. Her memorandum detailed mechanical problems with the pumps and criticized the testing procedures used. She said the pumps would break down "should they be tasked to run, under normal use, as would be required in the event of a hurricane." The memorandum was sent when only 12 of the 34 pumps contracted for were in place. The last 22 were installed after her memorandum was sent because, as a corps spokesperson explained, some pumping capacity is better than none. Time will tell if he's right.

When Mr. Bush addressed the nation on the anniversary of his war he told the Iraqis and his domestic subjects to be patient. When Mr. Bush visited New Orleans in August 2006 he said of the lackluster reconstruction: "There will be momentum, momentum will be gathered. Houses will begat jobs, jobs will begat houses." They didn't. When Mr. Bush returned to the area in March he said one of the purposes of the trip was to tell "the people here in the Gulf Coast that we still think about them in Washington" and to show taxpayers "what their money has done to help revitalize" the region even though that's precious little. It's a sad day for the country when the most assistance the inarticulate Mr. Bush can offer hurricane victims and Iraqis comes from his least powerful friends, words.

Mr. Brauchli has been practicing law in Colorado since 1961. A former president of the Boulder and Colorado Bar Associations and a fellow of the American College of Trust and Estate Counsel, Mr. Brauchli has been writing weekly political commentary since 1985. His column has appeared in newspapers around the country including the Los Angeles Times and the Laramie Daily Boomerang as well as many websites. His home page can be found at Human Race and Other Sports. Email to:

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