Army pays Halliburton for disputed, fraudulent charges

When you want to rip off the federal government with inflated charges for services in a war zone, it helps to have the Vice President of the United States as your former CEO.

Reports James Glanz in The New York Times:

The Army has decided to reimburse a Halliburton subsidiary for nearly all of its disputed costs on a $2.41 billion no-bid contract to deliver fuel and repair oil equipment in Iraq, even though the Pentagon’s own auditors had identified more than $250 million in charges as potentially excessive or unjustified.

The Army said in response to questions on Friday that questionable business practices by the subsidiary, Kellogg Brown & Root, had in some cases driven up the company’s costs. But in the haste and peril of war, it had largely done as well as could be expected, the Army said, and aside from a few penalties, the government was compelled to reimburse the company for its costs.

Under the type of contract awarded to the company, "the contractor is not required to perform perfectly to be entitled to reimbursement," said Rhonda James, a spokeswoman for the southwestern division of the United States Army Corps of Engineers, based in Dallas, where the contract is administered.

The contract has been the subject of intense scrutiny after disclosures in 2003 that it had been awarded without competitive bidding. That produced criticism from Congressional Democrats and others that the company had benefited from its connection with Dick Cheney, who was Halliburton’s chief executive before becoming vice president.

Later that year auditors began focusing on the fuel deliveries under the contract, finding that the fuel transportation costs that the company was charging the Army were in some cases nearly triple what others were charging to do the same job. But Kellogg Brown & Root, which has consistently maintained that its costs were justified, characterized the Army’s decision as an official repudiation of those criticisms.

"Once all the facts were fully examined, it is clear, and now confirmed, that KBR performed this work appropriately per the client’s direction and within the contract terms," said Cathy Mann, a company spokeswoman, in a written statement on the decision. The company’s charges, she said, "were deemed properly incurred."

The Pentagon’s Defense Contract Audit Agency had questioned $263 million in costs for fuel deliveries, pipeline repairs and other tasks that auditors said were potentially inflated or unsupported by documentation. But the Army decided to pay all but $10.1 million of those contested costs, which were mostly for trucking fuel from Kuwait and Turkey.

Halliburton, of course, is the company once headed by Vice President Dick Cheney, who has been the subject of many investigations in corruption, fraud and abuse while heading the company.

Even an administration marked by cronyism, Halliburton stands out: Serving contaminated water to our troops in Iraq while Bush’s Republican cronies in Congress kill any chance of a real investigation into the firm’s abuses.

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