When Defense Policy Board chairman Richard Perle revealed that he was getting $725,000 to help Global Crossing navigate the national security issues surrounding the sale of its assets, the press jumped all over Perle, and rightly so. There was indeed something fishy about a top Pentagon advisor making that kind of money to help a company that was having problems with national security issues. Perle is also on the board of Onset Technology, the leading provider of message conversion technology and a major supplier to Bechtel - one of the leading candidates for rebuilding Iraqi infrastructure.
As the Center for Public Integrity has documented, this kind of thing is not unusual. At least nine of the 30 members of the Defense Policy Board have ties to corporations that have won more than $76 billion in defense contracts in 2001 and 2002. As more and more wartime contracts are announced, more and more conflicts of interest are coming to light. After all, the Bush administration is riddled with ties to the weapons, engineering, construction, and oil companies that have the most to profit from in the Iraq war.
Cheney's Conflict of Interest
However, of all the administration members with potential conflicts of interest, none seems more troubling than Vice President Dick Cheney. Cheney is former CEO of Halliburton, an oil-services company that also provides construction and military support services - a triple-header of wartime spoils.
A few weeks ago, the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers awarded a no-bid contract to extinguish oil well fires in Iraq to Kellogg Brown and Root (KBR), a subsidiary of Halliburton. The contract was granted under a January Bush administration waiver that, according to the Washington Post, allowed "government agencies to handpick companies for Iraqi reconstruction projects."
The contract, which was not announced until more than two weeks after it was awarded, was open-ended, with no time limits and no dollar limits. It was also a "cost-plus" contract, meaning that the company is guaranteed to recover costs and then make a guaranteed profit on top of that. Its value is estimated at tens of millions of dollars.
This is not the first buck that Cheney's former company has made off military conflict and likely won't be the last. KBR currently has thousands of military support personnel on the ground in Kuwait and Turkey as part of a multi-year contract worth close to a billion dollars. The engineering subsidiary was also one of a select few firms invited to bid on an initial $900 million USAID contract for rebuilding post-war Iraq. Though it didn't get that job, Halliburton says it is still in the running for subcontracts and there will likely be plenty more opportunities. The American Academy of Sciences estimates the rebuilding Iraq will cost between $30 and $105 billion dollars. At a recent investor conference call, Halliburton reported a 30% increase in year-over-year revenues, to $1.6 billion, for KBR.
The Revolving Door Between Big Business and Government
Cheney, who served as CEO from 1995 to 2000, continues to receive as much as $1 million a year in deferred compensation as Halliburton executives enjoy a seat at the table during Administration discussions over how to handle post-war oil production in Iraq.
The Cheney-Halliburton story is the classic military-industrial revolving door tale. As Secretary of Defense under Bush I, Cheney paid Brown and Root services (now Kellogg Brown and Root) $3.9 million to report on how private companies could help the U.S. Army as Cheney cut hundreds of thousands of Army jobs. Then Brown and Root won a five-year contract to provide logistics for the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers all over the globe. In 1995, Cheney became CEO and Halliburton jumped from 73rd to 18th on the Pentagon's list of top contractors, benefiting from at least $3.8 billion in federal contracts and taxpayer-insured loans, according to the Center for Public Integrity.
Halliburton's Dubious Track Record
But the Halliburton story is more than just a simple revolving door tale. Even without the Cheney conflicts of interest, serious doubts remain about whether a company with a record like Halliburton's should even be eligible to receive government contracts in the first place. This, after all, is a company that has been accused of cost overruns, tax avoidance, and cooking the books and has a history of doing business in countries like Iraq, Iran and Libya.
Cost overruns: In September 2000, the General Accounting Office (GAO) found that the U.S. Army had not taken appropriate steps to limit the $2.2 billion costs Kellogg Brown and Root charged for logistical and engineering support in the Balkans. According to the report, Army officials "frequently have simply accepted the level of services the contractor provided without questioning whether they could be provided more efficiently or less frequently at lower cost."
Questionable Accounting: The SEC recently formalized an investigation into whether Halliburton artificially inflated revenue by $234 million over four years. Halliburton switched to a more aggressive accounting method in 1998 under Cheney.
Access to Evil -- Business Dealings in Iraq, Iran, and Libya: News reports suggest that Pentagon is currently using the Iran-Libya Sanctions Act (ILSA) to draw up a blacklist of non-US companies that have done business in Iran. Yet, Halliburton has conducted Business in Iran through subsidiaries. When Cheney was CEO of Halliburton, he inquired about an ILSA waiver to pursue oil field developments in Iran. In 1997, Halliburton subsidiary Halliburton Energy Services paid $15,000 to settle Department of Commerce allegations that the company had broken anti-boycott provisions of the U.S. Export Administration Act for an Iran-related transaction. Halliburton recently agreed to evaluate its operations in Iran, after the Securities and Exchange Commission rebuffed the company's request to dismiss a New York City police and fire pension funds shareholder proposal for the company to examine its role in Iran.
Also forgotten is that story about how Cheney's Halliburton did business with Saddam. According to the Washington Post, "Halliburton held stakes in two firms that signed contracts to sell more than $73 million in oil production equipment and spare parts to Iraq while Cheney was chairman and chief executive officer."
Halliburton has also done business in Azerbaijan, Burma, Indonesia, Libya and Nigeria. As Dick Cheney once said, "The good Lord didn't see fit to put oil and gas only where there are democratic regimes friendly to the United States."
Tax Havens: Under Cheney's tenure, the number of Halliburton subsidiaries in offshore tax havens increased from 9 to 44. Meanwhile, Halliburton went from paying $302 million in company taxes in 1998 to getting an $85 million tax refund in 1999.
All told, the IRS loses about $70 billion a year in offshore tax sheltering by corporations and wealthy individuals - almost enough to cover the $75 billion Bush has asked for to cover the first six months of war.
What to Do About Crony Capitalism?
The Halliburton story is part of a larger dynamic that should not be forgotten in a debate over contractor responsibility. While the Halliburton contracts reek of blatant cronyism, almost all the major firms that provide this kind of work are tied to the administration.
Somebody has to do the job. However, the level of secrecy surrounding the contracts that have been given out so far is troubling, and symptomatic of a bigger problem - the very legitimacy of a reconstruction process controlled by the U.S. military and their corporate contractors. Although the United States has the obligation to pay for the costs of reconstructing Iraq, only the United Nations is the proper body to provide governance and help rebuild a new government, civil society and physical infrastructure if the current regime is overthrown, not the White House, the Pentagon and their corporate cronies.
Note: In honor of Big Business Day 2003, Citizen Works presented Dick Cheney the "Daddy Warbucks" Award for eminence in corporate war profiteering on Friday, April 4.
Check out Citizen Works' DC Corporate War Map.
Lee Drutman is the Communications Director and Charlie Cray is the Corporate Reform Campaigner at Citizen Works in Washington DC.
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