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The Business of War: Rebuilding Iraq

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By Rep. Maxine Waters

There is much concern among Americans about who will rebuild post-war Iraq and how contracts will be awarded.

I have offered amendments to the Defense Production Act to deal with post-war contracts and possible conflicts of interest and two of my congressional colleagues have asked the General Accounting Office to investigate the awarding of reconstruction contracts.

Concerns about conflicts of interest arose after a subsidiary of the Halliburton Company was awarded a multi-million dollar contract to help rebuild Iraq, without going through a normal bidding process.

Americans expressed concern because Vice President Cheney was Halliburton's CEO, and that his former company may have gotten favorable treatment from the Bush Administration in winning the first post-war contract. Although Vice President Cheney is no longer employed by Halliburton, he still receives $180,000 a year in deferred payments from the company.

There is also concern because the contract was awarded almost two weeks before the war started-when the Bush Administration was reportedly engaged in diplomatic efforts to resolve the Iraqi crisis peacefully. For many who opposed the war, the timing of the contract confirmed the theory that President Bush was committed to war and military action would be launched to secure control of oil fields and other Iraqi resources.

No American wants to believe that our government would risk the lives of our military men and women in a war fought for profit. Certainly, there is no evidence upon which to base such a conclusion. However, it is understandable that many Americans harbor suspicions about the motives involved in waging war against Iraq. My amendments to the Defense Production Act were offered to eliminate the perception there were conflicts of interest in awarding post-war contracts.

My initial amendment would have banned companies where senior administration officials previously served as executives from bidding on federal contracts for four years. That amendment was defeated 14-41. I then offered a compromise amendment, which only required high-ranking administration officials to recuse themselves from participating in any way in negotiations of contracts with companies with which they could conceivably have a conflict of interest.

The compromise version missed passage by only three votes. The perception of conflict of interest persists and questions about the process of awarding post-war contracts remain unanswered. The Halliburton contract is one of eight being awarded by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) to rebuild and run key institutions in post-war Iraq. USAID, operating under a provision of the Defense Production Act that allows a streamlined process for urgent work involving national security, secretly sent the contracts to a select group of companies in February and March.

What was the issue of national security that required urgent work in Iraq before the bombs began to fall? Why were the contracts sent secretly to select companies? Why are they being awarded without any competitive bidding or notice to Congress?

As long as these questions go unanswered Americans will continue to harbor suspicions.

The Congress and the Bush Administration should do everything possible to dispel all suspicions and misconceptions about why we went to war in Iraq.

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