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Challenging 'High Road' Contracting

Laura Flanders

This is what must make it hard for people working inside the Obama administration. No sooner does the White House start talking up something good, than it does something bad.

Take contracting.  As reported here on GRITtv, the Obama's administration's been talking up "High Road Contracting." That's the using of the power of the government's $500 billion purse to reward companies that offer better wages and benefits and disqualify from federal contracts those that violate labor and environmental law. Sounds good right? The debate was just heating up when the second shoe dropped.

After no fewer than 20 Senate hearings on Pentagon contracting fraud and abuse, one of the most controversial contractors, KBR, was awarded a new contract worth up to $2.8 billion for work in Iraq. Formerly a subsidiary of Halliburton, KBR's appeared at no end of fraud hearings -- it stands accused most spectacularly of the electrocution deaths of US troops and the exposure of troops to carcinogens.

Just last fall, the Senate passed a measure specifically to ban from federal contracts companies that do what KBR has done -- which is deny victims of workplace sexual assault the right to bring their cases to court.

A whole bunch of female KBR workers have accused fellow employees of rape. One, reportedly received a $3 m settlement in private arbitration last fall. Another, Jamie Leigh Jones, says she was raped at 19 by a bunch of fellow KBR workers in Iraq  -- and locked up in a crate when she tried reporting them...

Unless I'm dreaming, Senator Al Franken's amendment was supposed to bar companies like that from receiving federal contracts.  Yet here we are: amidst all this talk of high road contracting, KBR announced its new contract March 2, saying it "demonstrates the U.S. government's recognition of KBR's ability to deliver high-quality logistics services in challenging contingency environments."

You want challenging environments -- let's talk about the US Senate. Contracting with KBR again is about as low-road as it gets.

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The F Word is a regular commentary by Laura Flanders, the host of GRITtv which broadcasts weekdays on satellite TV (Dish Network Ch. 9415 Free Speech TV) on cable, and online at and Follow GRITtv or GRITlaura on

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