The Resurrection of KBR

Let us forget and forgive injuries.

- Miguel de Cervantes, Don Quixote

Mea culpa, although the culpa is only partially mine. More of it belongs to the Pentagon.

week I wrote what I described as a Requiem for KBR and Blackwater. I
got the Blackwater part right. I got the KBR part wrong. It has risen
Phoenix like from the ashes of the six dead servicemen who died because
of KBR's electrical work in Iraq. One hopes the awarding of the
contract preceded the inauguration of the new president.

singing KBR's threnody I relied on the death of Staff Sgt. Ryan Maseth
who when stepping into the shower in a barracks electrically wired by KBR
was electrocuted instead of washed. The government has notified Sgt.
Maseth's mother that it has changed the cause of death from
"accidental" to "negligent homicide." I jumped, but not very far, to
the conclusion that KBR would be able to prove it was not responsible
for Sgt. Maseth's death as Heather Browne, the company spokesperson
said, in the criminal trial of its employees. No criminal trial has yet
been set but it seems safe to say that when a "negligent homicide"
occurs, a statement of that conclusion does not put the matter to rest.

There were two things I did not know when I wrote. I did
not know the identity of Staff Sgt. Christopher Lee Everett. He was
using a power washer to clean a vehicle in 2005 when the device
short-circuited electrocuting him. The Associated Press reports that
army criminal agents have reopened the investigation into the death of
Sgt. Everett. In a lawsuit filed
by Sgt. Everett's family it is alleged that the electrical work on the
defective generator was performed by KBR and Arkel International and
that the defective work is responsible for the death of Sgt. Everett.
It would not be a great surprise if the family was right. Here,
however, is a great surprise.

KBR just got another
contract to do electrical work in Iraq. Through the present it has
earned $615 million for its reconstruction work that included not
building a pipeline, not serving food to the troops and not furnishing potable water. The newest contract is for $35 million and reportedly involves major electrical work.

arguments in favor of giving the work to KBR is that having gotten
things wrong for so many years when dealing with matters electric, it
is probably safe to assume it has learned from its mistakes and future
electrocutions should be fewer if not eliminated altogether. The
argument against giving it another contract is best articulated by
David J. Graff, the commander of the Defense Contract Management
Agency. In a September 30, 2008 letter
addressing KBR's performance he said: "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." In his letter General Graff referred
to "continuing quality deficiencies" and said its executives were "not
sufficiently in touch with the urgency or realities of what was
actually occurring on the ground." Here is what KBR will be doing under
the newly awarded contract.

It will design and build a
convoy support center at camp Adder. That includes building a power
plant (presumably involving electricity), an electrical distribution
center (which will certainly involve things electric), a water
purification and distribution system (that will almost certainly
involve providing potable water as distinguished from the kind it
provided under an earlier contract), a wastewater and information
system and road paving. Of those tasks, it has yet to prove itself
incompetent in constructing a wastewater and information system and in
road paving. Whether or not that is a good sign only time will tell.
Not everyone is happy with the new contract.

The Associated Press
quoted Senator Byron Dorgan as saying the awarding of the new contract
was inappropriate. Sen. Bob Casey asked the Corps of Engineers whether
there were alternative contractors that could be used and whether the
Corps was confident in KBR's ability to get the job done right. Sen.
Casey does not, apparently, believe that the proof of the pudding is in
the eating. If he did he'd not have asked the question since the KBR
pudding has been gagged on repeatedly by the beneficiaries of its work.
Sen. Dorgan said: This is hardly the time to award KBR a new contract
for work they've already failed to perform adequately and which put
U.S. soldiers at even greater risk." He then made the extraordinary
statement that surely caught the Corps by surprise. He said:
"Ultimately contractors must be held accountable and so should those
who continue to award these contracts." He got that right.

ubiquitous Heather Browne (whose assigned task is to defend that
hapless company) bravely said that KBR was committed to providing
quality services and would comply with the military's requirements in
its work on the newly awarded contract. What causes her to think it has
changed its ways she neglected to say.

Our work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). Feel free to republish and share widely.