Congress probes hurricane clean-up contracts,00.html

Oliver Morgan, industrial editor
Sunday September 11, 2005

A powerful investigative agency of the US Congress is to investigate the award of contracts by the Bush administration for emergency and reconstruction work in the wake of Hurricane Katrina.

The Government Accounting Office, which monitors public spending, is to audit the contracts won by the US firms. Already contracts have been given for repairing New Orleans' flood levees, rebuilding naval facilities, providing temporary housing and removing debris.

Companies winning work include US contracting giants Bechtel and Halliburton. Halliburton, formerly headed by Vice President Dick Cheney, is facing questions for allegedly overcharging on work done in Iraq. The Department of Defense was criticised for awarding Iraq reconstruction contracts to these two companies without competition. Other groups include Fluor and Shaw Group, a Louisiana engineer. The move comes as leading congressional figures express concern over the contracting process.

California representative Henry Waxman, who led much of the investigation into the Iraq reconstruction contracts, says: 'The administration has an abysmal contracting record in Iraq. We can't afford to make the same mistakes again. We must make sure taxpayer funds are not wasted, because every dollar thrown away today is a dollar that is not available to hurricane victims and their families.' Contracts had to be awarded in 'full transparency'. He added the audit of the contracting was 'a very good first step'.

Bechtel has been asked by the Federal Emergency Management Agency to assess the need for, and then to provide, temporary 'trailer' housing in the hardest hit areas.

Halliburton is repairing damage to three naval bases under a logistical contract with the US navy.