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US: Company Gets Pentagon Contract Despite Death Inquiries

by Associated PressNew York Times
February 7th, 2009

A defense contractor has been awarded a $35 million Pentagon contract involving major electrical work even though it is under criminal investigation in the electrocution deaths of at least two American soldiers in Iraq.

The contractor, KBR, announced last week that it had won a $35.4 million contract from the Army Corps of Engineers to design and build a convoy support center at Camp Adder in southern Iraq. The center will include a power plant and an electrical distribution center.

Senator Byron L. Dorgan, Democrat of North Dakota, called the contract inappropriate. “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,” Mr. Dorgan said.

Senator Bob Casey, Democrat of Pennsylvania, said he had formally asked the corps whether it was confident the company could accomplish the work and whether there were any alternative contractors.

A KBR spokeswoman, Heather Browne, said the company would comply with the military’s requirements on the contract.

Army criminal agents have reopened the death investigation of Staff Sgt. Christopher Lee Everett, 23, a member of the Texas Army National Guard. Sergeant 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 Sergeant Everett’s family.

The Army had already reclassified another soldier’s electrocution death as a negligent homicide caused by KBR and two of its supervisors. Staff Sgt. Ryan Maseth, 24, a member of the Green Berets from Pittsburgh, was electrocuted in his barracks shower. An Army investigator said KBR’s contractor had failed to ensure that qualified electricians and plumbers did the work in the barracks.

The case is under legal review, and KBR has said it was not responsible for the death.

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