Contract Killings

The new normal in Iraq


With characteristic deadpan delivery, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) shocked and amazed nobody with a September report announcing that "the United States generally has not met its goals for reconstruction activities in Iraq with respect to the oil, electricity, and water sectors." As of August, oil production remained below prewar levels, and efforts to restore electricity and water treatment capacity have failed to meet stated goals.

Much of the trouble stems from shady contracting arrangements and unrealistic expectations. As the report explains, "When setting requirements for work to be done, [the Department of Defense] made assumptions about funding and time frames that later proved to be unfounded." The GAO cites numerous cases where hiring of a contractor was completed before the Defense Department, the State Department, or Iraqi authorities had even decided on the work to be done or the budget for the job.

The agency has been tracking the lousy record of contracting in Iraq since soon after the 2003 invasion. It has turned up dozens of cases where guidelines for competitive bidding were circumvented (by, for example, inaccurately describing the scope of work on a given project) or where agencies abused the "interagency contracting" method designed to increase efficiency and timeliness. In many of the single-bid contract cases, the agencies involved have claimed they didn't have time to put together a multiple-bid process.

On the plus side, some areas of reconstruction (such as water treatment) have brought Iraq to a level higher than what it had prior to the war, though almost all areas have failed to meet the lofty goals of U.S. agencies.