KatrinaGate II: Bush’s No-Bid Relief Contracts
It’s a great time to be an FOB (Friend of Bush). The president’s wars in Afghanistan and Iraq are still lining the pockets of his fat-cat corporate pals, and he’s now bestowing on them additional no-bid contracts for the rebuilding of the Gulf in the wake of Hurricane Katrina’s devastating destruction. So much so, reports the NY Times, that the Inspector General of the Department of Homeland Security, Richard L. Skinner, prompted by Democrats, will investigate charges of government waste and fraud involving billions given to Halliburton subsidiary Kellogg Brown & Root (KBR); the Fluor Corporation of California; the Shaw Group, of Baton Rouge, La; Bechtel Corporation; and others. Halliburton, helmed in the mid 1990’s by VP Dick Cheney, has been one of the biggest benefactors of the U.S. occupation of Iraq. To date, it and various subsidiaries including KBR have received about $20 billion in contracts---many of them no-bid---for services that include engineering, construction, fuel, mail, food and shelter. It has also been the target of investigation into overcharging and fraud to the tune of $212 million and has returned millions, stating that cost disputes “are part of the normal contracting process” despite what former employees have said is widespread, intentional gauging. Fluor Corp. is a major GOP donor. And, the cronyism and political patronage deepens with Shaw Group, a consulting client of former FEMA head and 2000 Bush campaign manager Joe Allbaugh, whose major contribution to society unfortunately is his ’03 appointment of college roommate---the under-qualified, over-hyped, super-sized dunce Michael Brown---as his 2nd in command. “Brownie,” as Bush fondly called him four days into the catastrophe despite his incredulous ignorance of the inhumane conditions victims were living under in the Convention Center and Superdome....well, we all know what happened to him.
At issue is the hundreds of billions in federal and private funds that will eventually go towards victims’ aid and the rebuilding of the area. This includes the $37-billion Congress approved last week (out of a total of $51.8-billion) that will go directly to FEMA, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, to finance the recovery in the flood-ravaged region. Bush is expected to request an additional $50-billion+ in his address tonight from the flood zone. To prevent misuse and abuse, Skinner is sending 30 inspectors and auditors to Louisiana, Alabama and Mississippi to oversee the dispensing of the funds. “We’re going to be looking at all of the contracting, the decision-making that was used to determine a sole-source contract. We want validation and we want documentation to show that it was rational to go one way or the other” in awarding no-bid contracts.
FEMA, which was merged into Homeland Security in ’03 under Michael Chertoff, has been gutted and restructured since then, which critics directly attribute to its abysmal performance before, during and after Katrina, as well its mismanagement of relief funds post-Hurricane Andrew last year. The Agency is now a sad shell of its former self. Once viewed as a highly effective first-responder during the Clinton administration (when it became a cabinet-level agency)under the leadership of James Lee Witt, it’s been pillaged of most of its funding, which has been diverted to the war on terrorism.
We finally saw a half-hearted mea culpa this week from Bush, though it’s taken him almost six years into his presidency and 2 weeks after Katrina to even remotely take responsibility for what occurred on his watch. Yet true to form, the new no-bid contracts demonstrate the president’s greatest strength: his loyalty to his rich pals, no matter how corrupt, unethical or inept they may be. Andy