Tuesday, January 29, 2008

An American Builder’s Failures in Iraq Are Found to Have Been More Widespread

Rebuilding failures by one of the most heavily criticized companies working in Iraq, the American construction giant Parsons, were much more widespread than previously disclosed and touched on nearly every aspect of the company’s operation in the country, according to a report released Monday by a federal oversight agency.

Previous reports by federal inspectors and by news organizations identified numerous examples of construction failures in Parsons Corporation projects in Iraq, including dozens of uncompleted or shoddily built health care clinics and border forts, as well as disastrous sewage and plumbing problems at the Baghdad police academy that left parts of it unusable.

But the new report, by the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction, an independent federal agency, examined nearly 200 Parsons construction projects contained in 11 major “job orders” paid for in a huge rebuilding contract. There were also three other nonconstruction orders. The total cost of the work to the United States was $365 million.

The new report finds that 8 of the 11 rebuilding orders were terminated by the United States before they were completed, for reasons including weak contract oversight, unrealistic schedules, a failure to report problems in a timely fashion and poor supervision by the United States Army Corps of Engineers, which managed the contracts.

“There was a confluence of shortfalls here,” said Stuart W. Bowen Jr., who leads the inspector general’s office. “It was obviously an unworkable plan.”

In response to the report, a spokeswoman for the company, Amber Thompson, released a statement saying, in part, that “Parsons put forth its best efforts to simultaneously build or refurbish hundreds of facilities across Iraq.”

“We did so under an extremely hazardous security environment while simultaneously contending with constantly changing demands by government officials regarding what they wanted, where and for how much,” Ms. Thompson said.

The work, Ms. Thompson said, was carried out with other challenges, such as a United States requirement to work with Iraqi contractors whose capabilities often fell short. “Despite the challenges we faced, Parsons completed many of the required facilities” and completed most of the work on many others, Ms. Thompson said.

But William L. Nash, a retired Army major general who is a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, said the report filled out a tapestry of failure illustrating that American military and civilian officials in Iraq failed to absorb lessons learned in the 1990s about how to carry out rebuilding in conflict zones.

“To me,” Mr. Nash said, “it further illustrates the disconnect between the military and the C.P.A.,” or the Coalition Provisional Authority, the American administrative authority after the 2003 invasion.

Congress has asked the inspector general’s office to look at all of the major contractors that worked in Iraq and assess their work. A previous assessment found that another major American construction company, Bechtel National, had successfully completed 10 of 24 job orders for rebuilding water, sewage and electricity plants in a huge contract.

Mr. Bowen had no specific explanation why Parsons’s rate of success was much lower than that of the other company he has closely examined so far, saying only that each set of contracts was “its own study.”

But earlier, more limited examinations of Parsons’s work in Iraq had already suggested serious shortcomings. Mr. Bowen’s office had previously found, for example, that Parsons had completed just 6 of 141 primary health care clinics called for in one of the contracts and that urine and fecal matter leaking from poor plumbing had made major portions of the Baghdad police academy unusable.

Last fall, more than a year after the first federal inspections, a reporter from The New York Times again visited the academy, the Baghdad Police College, and found that many of the problems persisted. Parsons has said that it did everything required in its contract to carry out the construction and fix the problems.

Mr. Bowen said his latest information indicated that the Army Corps was still trying to complete the clinics left unfinished by Parsons. It is expected that only 130 of the 141 clinics will actually be completed and turned over to the Iraqis; of those, work is continuing on 56.

The Parsons contracts that are the subject of Monday’s report called for reconstruction of major government buildings along with the health care facilities and certain housing projects. The report said Parsons had successfully completed several ministry buildings in Baghdad and a number of maternity and pediatric hospitals in what has been the relatively placid northern part of Iraq.

Of the projects that Parsons did not complete, a majority of the planned work had been carried out on a number of them, although many were also behind schedule, the report found.

Mr. Bowen’s office itself has recently been the focus of an investigation based on accusations of mismanagement by former employees who left his office on unhappy terms. The investigation is being carried out by the President’s Council on Integrity and Efficiency, an office associated with the White House.

Mr. Bowen’s investigations have repeatedly embarrassed an administration that has sought to portray the Iraq rebuilding effort as successful. On Monday, Mr. Bowen said he believed that the investigation of his office continued but had no new information on its focus.



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