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September 28, 2006

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Well, it's long been a byword among both military and civilian agencies of the US that "We don't do nation-building".

Astonishingly, we don't seem to have even grasped the fundamentals of toilet-building, either!

Seriously though, it is stuff like this that just cries out for a latter-day Truman Committee - but what, given the mendacious corrupt incompetence of the current Administration, are the chances of that? "Egads" is right.

Is this the same as Parsons Brinckerhoff? I worked on a case for them many years ago (which I obviously can't talk about)--but for purely personal insight it would be interesting to know.

Thanks for posting this, Charles.

I want to make it clear that the level of near-incoherent frustration I've had with much of the Iraqi reconstruction revolves around stories like this: simple, straightforward stuff like building buildings and distributing medicine that should've demonstrated to Iraqis how life would bebetter but instead reinforced the message that things were going to get much, much worse.

After doing a lot of reading, I don't think that THESE failures are due to any failures to plan. Instead, they all seem to track back to ideological presuppositions about free markets. Letting businesses 'police themselves' and trying to put 'market-friendly' solutions in place for drug distribution, inventing fantasy stock market systems rather than just helping existing Iraqi traders get back online...

Military issues aside, that brand of failure is even more painful, because the only thing that kept us from succeeding was our own quixotic quest to build the Perfect Economy.

damn straight.

and when they're done with Parsons, they can move on to all the other conractors. then maybe they can find that missong $9,000,000,000.

after all, the GOBushP is the party of grown-ups willing to take responsibility and ensure accountability.

Have contracted any Iraqi companies to rebuild Iraq? Do the American companies we do contract with hire Iraqis?

and we should investigate how Parsons came to be selected in the first place and how they were awarded contracts totaling ten digits.

Already been done, nearly three and a half years ago.
Carving up the new Iraq, Sunday Herald, 13 April 2003:

With only a few exceptions, there is a smoking gun for all those behind the reconstruction work. Whether it’s a seat on a board, shares in a firm, a favour owed here or there, these question the impartiality of seriously powerful people and ask important questions about the levels of self-interest that lie behind the rebuilding of Iraq. While Iraq may be free of Saddam, it looks like it’s going to be the most lucrative country on Earth for the foreseeable future – at least for US hawks anyway. ..... Also in the running is Parsons Corp, which donated $152,000 (£96,000) to the Republican party and £2000 (£1800) to Bush. It has helped reconstruct Kosovo and Bosnia and built the Saudi “military city” of Yanbu. Bush’s labour secretary Elaine Chao served on its board before joining the cabinet. It has got a chance of $900m (£570m) of reconstruction contracts and works closely with Halliburton. Chao’s husband, assistant majority leader and majority whip Mitch McConnell has links to defence contractor Northrop Grumman. He has also received donations from, among others, Halliburton and arms firm Lockheed Martin.

We've seen them screw us on a $243 million contract for construction of 150 health clinics. (we ended up with only 20), then they went on to get a $99 million dollar contract to build a prison which ran into cost over runs and finally had to be cancelled all together, and now this.

Maybe their plan is this. If we screw up the police acadamy they'll train no police. With no police they won't have a need for the prison we couldn't build, and with no one getting incarcerated for violent crimes people will be murdered before they have a chance to get sick so we won't need all those clinics.

Maybe their plan is this. If we screw up the police acadamy they'll train no police. With no police they won't have a need for the prison we couldn't build, and with no one getting incarcerated for violent crimes people will be murdered before they have a chance to get sick so we won't need all those clinics.
...

4) Profit!

It appears Parsons lacked the required Will To Victory, and has aided the terrorists. I suggest we throw them into Gitmo and tell no one.

More seriously -- look at the whole bidding process. Can anyone look at this and not understand that the "Iraqi Reconstruction" is geared to put money into specific pockets, and not "rebuild Iraq"?

I wouldn't blame the Corp of Engineers. I'd start higher -- with the people that authorized and pushed a bidding process that, in what I am sure is a VAST coincidence, resulted in their campaign donors getting huge contracts with no oversight. And even when they fail miserably, getting more.

Birth pangs, people. Birth pangs.

We need accountability from government contractors, and the only way to get that is to hold the directors responsible. Even better would be to hold the shareholders responsible - bollox up something on the scale that Parsons has, and the members of the BoD should be forbidden to serve on the BoD of any government contractor. The funds required to fix the problems should come out of the pockets of the people who held stock at the time the mess was created. Yes, there are some practical difficulties, but dammit accountability matters. Conservatives like to talk about responsibility, but that somehow magically goes away when the owners (the shareholders) of a corporation fail to exercise oversight.

We need accountability from government contractors, and the only way to get that is to hold the directors responsible.

I'd be happy if we held those responsible for letting and managing these contracts responsible.

In the name of science: The Bizarro World version, so far with only a single, and reasonable, comment.

Seems as good a moment as any to encourage readers here to buy a copy of Iraq for Sale, arrange a local showing, or to find a screening near you.

Sebastian, as far as I can tell Parsons, founded in 1944, is not to be confused with Parsons Brinckerhoff, founded late in the 19th century.

They are both engineering firms. Parsons Brinckerhoff, I believe, is a lead contractor on Boston's Big Dig, also infamous. Except that Parsons' screwups in Iraq may actually contribute to the creation of more terrorism. Parsons Brinckerhoff's Big Dig problems have, as yet, led to only terror in the hearts of posters and commenters at places like Redstate.

Curiously, both screwups lead different groups of people to hate their governments. What is deliciously ironic, of course, is that the private sector is hired to besmirch the reputation of government.

Yet the conclusion by the current Administration, inevitably and universally, is that the private sector's scewups on behalf of taxpayers is mere proof that nearly all government should be privatized.

I expect both Parsons and Parsons Brinckerhoff to get into the Social Security Private Accounts business within the next two years. As an award for proving that government sucks.

Charles, this is a good post. Thank you for bringing it to our attention. I would add that Kevin Drum has a post up too about this subject. He points out that this is not the first Parsons project to rain feces down upon our efforts in Iraq.

I agree with you, Charles, that Parsons is probably criminally negligent. I'm curious, however, about the term "un-American" in this case.

I suspect that many Iraqis view this behavior, now, as quintessentially American.

And I would add that privatizing government functions to contractors who perform shoddy work with taxpayer money is becoming more and more quintessentially American.

Jerry Falwell would find Lucifer a more amenable leader than Hillary. The Bush Administration finds Mammon to be a more amenable ideology than good government. The terrorists, those cockeyed optimists, believe the U.S. Government is the Great Satan.

I beg to differ with the three of them.

it looks like we have a case where we did drop the ball in Iraq.

Just this one case? And this one case is causing all our problems there? Blame everything on Parsons? It sure sounds like that's the line of logic you're trying to pursue here. It's been interesting to watch all the hawks coming up with all these theories why someone else is to blame for the mess over there - but this one, so far, takes the cake.

Bonus points to the first person to make an APP pun in the service of blogging about this.

I'll comment on this post later; for right now, Charles, would you mind commenting on the various torture bills going through the Senate as we speak (S 3930 is the one that's up, I believe) in the relevant threads?

The best part is Saddam Hussein fired Parsons Corp. back in the 1980s, apparently for their incompetence in failing to build a subway for Baghdad on-time and on-budget.

So, in the narrow realm of protecting them from companies like Parsons Corporation, Iraqis really were better off under Saddam.

After doing a lot of reading, I don't think that THESE failures are due to any failures to plan. Instead, they all seem to track back to ideological presuppositions about free markets.

I suspect these were planned adequately. The mistake is assuming, from Bush on down, that actually building anything was a goal. This wasn't ideology, it was greed. If it was the free market, something would have got built correctly, if only by random chance.

Tim, I disagree. This IS the free market at work. The free market isn't about any given project getting done -- it's about the self-correcting nature of copanies getting punished for bad work and rewarded for good work as business shifts to the most efficient and effective suppliers and builders etc.

And, yes, I do think this was planned adequately. I also think that getting Iraq rebuilt WAS a goal. The presupposition that this goal would best be accomplished via the incentive of greed was part of the problem, and it was very closely tied in with assumptions about what kinds of problems the market handles and what kinds of settings 'the market' can even apply to in a healthy or constructive way.

Addendum: I think it was planed 'adequately' in the sense that those in charge felt that it was a prefectly adequate plan. I blame them for thinking this approach to rebuilding would work.

John Thullen writes:" Parsons Brinckerhoff's Big Dig problems have, as yet, led to only terror in the hearts of posters and commenters at places like Redstate."

And in the hearts of Boston commuters who don't want to get squashed by falling concrete slabs.

As an engineer, I deal with empirical correlations. Since the only thing that the Bush admin and its cronies have succeeded in to date is siphoning billions from Iraq, I have to assume that was the only plan from the start.

Although a scarier conclusion might be that this level of corruption and incompetence is the norm for the U.S. now.

I think you are right on about the infrastructure thing, Charles, and how its proper pursuit would go a long way toward solving the “security problem.” However, I wouldn’t say any ball was dropped. What we see today was planned from the beginning (see CPA orders and the way Iraqi financial laws were rewritten under Bremer for the benefit of US firms and the detriment of Iraqi ones – 98% of all reconstruction contracts went to US or joint US-British companies, none of which are required to pay taxes into the Iraqi economy). I have a hard time imagining the “security problem” would be as bad as it is today had reconstruction (and the money to fund it, not to mention the oil) been turned over to the Iraqis. It also would have shown that we were in fact interested in rebuilding their country instead of robbing it blind. We were not, and the Iraqis know it. How long would any of us sit by while this happened to our country? Parsons Corp. is only one cog in the larger machine of exploitive occupation. It is not an exception, it is an example.


Nell,

Thanks for the link to the film. Have you seen "About Iraq"?

One way to look at what happened with this police is to see it as an example of construction practices in a country with neither a functioning regulatory system (where the h*ll were the building inspectors?) nor a functioning judiciary (why aren't they getting their ass sued off in Iraq?).

Whether this lesson has any applicability to any other country where certain political groups are looking to weaken oversight by both regulatory and judicial forces is left as an exercise for the reader.

Charles, kudos. With the exception of the first two sentences, the best post I've seen you write here.

The should well be a non-partisan issue, but unfortunately, the Republican controlled Congress has refuswed to do any investigations with teet, other than into steroid use in sports.

"the Republican controlled Congress has refuswed to do any investigations with teet"

What a typo!

Yeah, I really need to stop doing this when I'm on my meds. Did mean teeth.

Antway, IIRC another issue regarding the police is that Jordan and some of the other surrounding countries were willing to train police officers in those countries, where there would be less chance of disruption.

This was vetoed by the Bush adminsitration.

Just think how much further along the whole process might be if they had accepted those offers.

I'm curious, however, about the term "un-American" in this case.

Well, un-Iraqi too, John. If Parsons screws up a hospital or a school, American soldiers won't die from it (although Iraqis might). When they mess up something directly related to the security situation, then yes, I call that un-American because putting out sloppy work was a higher priority to them than the welfare of their American soldiers, the very men and women who are putting their lives on the line to make Iraq a better place.

...for right now, Charles, would you mind commenting on the various torture bills going through the Senate as we speak (S 3930 is the one that's up, I believe) in the relevant threads?

Anarch, I'm not as up to speed as I should be. I'm still working through last week's Senate bill, and I'm re-reading the DTA, the WCA, the GC, the HC, the USSC and a few other acronyms. But generally, I'm agin it because of the lack of habeas corpus. I'm grappeling with whether McCain's words will carry the day re prohibiting waterboarding, hypothermia and other coercive techniques. The legislation is supposed to follow congressional intent, and the compromise between McCain & Co. and the WH should have done so. It would be pretty easy to insert habeas corpus language into the bill and, if the GOP had done so, I think it would pass pretty easily. Unfortunately, I think they're playing politics with it, trying to create a wedge and trying to make Dems look weak on security. Pretty short-sighted, in my opinion. The Senate Dems don't come out of this smelly all rosy either.

Just this one case?

No, cw. This is one example of wheat separated from chaff.

This is not an attack, Charles, just an observation, but doesn't it bother you that Bush Derangement Syndrome is looking less like derangement and more like prescience? Or to put it in terms of your post, that there is a lot more wheat than chaff there?

It would be pretty easy to insert habeas corpus language into the bill and, if the GOP had done so, I think it would pass pretty easily.

I take it you missed the whole part where Specter, Levin et al. tried to insert such language (or remove the existing language, more accurately) and the GOP hardliners shot it down?

To be fair, Chas seems to be acknowledging the fact that the Republican leadership is creating a wedge issue. If he could be convinced that Graham, McCain and Warner are complicit in that attempt, some true progress will have been made.

Haven't the US courts ruled that contractors with the CPA can't be sued, because the CPA does not qualify as a US government organization?

If he could be convinced that Graham, McCain and Warner are complicit in that attempt, some true progress will have been made.

Those three were among the GOP hardliners who shot habeas corpus down. And yes, I'm aware of the supposed irony there.

Every day, the stream of anti-Bush administration sentiments flows incessantly, with commentary ranging from mild rebuke to paranoid unmedicated DU-sized hyperbole. The hard part sometimes is separating the wheat (legitimate concerns about how things are going) from the chaff (politicized grandstanding and raging cases of BDS)

You know, I've just finished re-reading Robert Mason's "Chickenhawk", a memoir of life as a helicopter pilot in the Vietnam War, and one exchange comes to mind:

"That's a bamboo viper," said the captain. "Deadly poisonous. There are thirty-three types of snake in Vietnam, and thirty-one of them are dangerous."
"How do we tell them apart?" asked Resler.
"I think with numbers like that you can afford to come to a prejudicial, sweeping generalisation."

We should audit every Parsons project, and we should investigate how Parsons came to be selected in the first place and how they were awarded contracts totaling ten digits.

In hearty agreement here. The "we" in question is the U.S. Congress, which is charged with such oversight. No Republican Senator or Congressman has made the slightest effort to do this, and the defense committee chairs in both houses have prevented hearings and investigations urged by Democratic members.

One reason for Republicans to dread a Democratic majority in the House is that Howard Waxman, who's been digging into this for three years, will finally be able to subpoena witnesses.

The front-line work of accountability for defense contractors in Iraq is carried out by the inspector generals and accounting bodies of the Dept. of Defense and State Dept., but they have come under intense pressure from the highest levels of the administration to overlook problems or, when they could not be ignored, to delay or suppress reports on them.

Ajay's apt anecdote applies directly to the sordid landscape of Iraq "reconstruction" profiteering: Parsons is not a lone example; there also Bechtel, KBR-Halliburton, Titan, CACI, and a slew of others. And it's not some incompetence or corruption particular to Parsons, or even to all the companies involved; it's the natural result of massive amounts of money (from Iraq's oil revenues, from U.S. taxpayers now and, because most of it is borrowed, from our children and grandchildren later) thrown at companies with no oversight and no accountability for the results. Just one indicator: half of the $270 billion spent on "reconstruction" between the fall of Saddam Hussein and 2005 was distributed without competitive bidding.

The Robert Greenwald film Iraq for Sale I mentioned above is premiering during the week of October 8-14 in thousands of libraries, church basements, and living rooms.

For those who want much more detail and documentation, there's a new book on the subject, Blood Money. The author, an LA Times reporter, had a recent Washington Post online chat; here's an article by him about the issues the book covers.

I work for parsons on a demil site in the states.

What a crime.
So much wasted money.
I have given notice and am leaving due to corruption.

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