Let's say a major corporation with ties to the second-highest official in the U.S. government gets a no-bid, multibillion-dollar contract. Then the company bungles the deal, and perhaps gouges taxpayers in the process.
Isn't this arrangement worth scrutinizing? Yes, and finally the FBI is expanding its criminal probe into Halliburton
Co. and its Iraq supply contracts.
contracts raised eyebrows from the get-go. It just didn't seem right for the Houston-based company, Vice President Dick Cheney's former employer, to have gotten no-bid contracts to supply support services to the military for the Iraq war.
Those who defend Cheney and Halliburton
claimed the no-bid terms didn't really matter because there weren't enough capable companies to handle the specialized duties and tasks. There is truth to this, especially as the casualty counts among civilian contractors in Iraq increased and other companies judged the risks from getting involved too great.
Even if all had been above board, and that apparently hasn't been the case, Halliburton's role in Iraq left the United States open to criticism that its war effort had wrongly profited a multinational corporation because of the vice president's connection.
On top of the potential conflict of interest from Cheney's old company getting an exclusive deal, KBR, the Halliburton
subsidiary in charge, managed to botch the contracts.
Pentagon auditors concluded in August that Halliburton's KBR
unit didn't provide satisfactory details to back up claims for work in Iraq and Kuwait. There have also been run-ins with the military over expenses, such as for gasoline, for which Halliburton
has sought reimbursement.
Soon after the audit became public, the Pentagon began reviewing the contract with an eye toward divvying up the $13 billion pie to other companies.
The FBI then began a probe into suspicions that Halliburton
and its subsidiaries overcharged for goods and services. Now that probe has been expanded to include the process used to award the no-bid contracts in the first place.
That investigation gained momentum at the end of last month. A high-ranking military official, Bunnatine Greenhouse, the Army Corps of Engineers' chief contracting officer, admitted her agency may not have followed rules in awarding no-bid contracts to KBR.
Greenhouse says she wants whistle-blower protection before she speaks freely to investigators. Given all the smoke around Halliburton
and the contracts, it seems a reasonable and fair request to grant.
Federal investigators need to get to the bottom of a deal that seemed suspect from the start.