Cheney's Staff 'Involved
From Start' In
Halliburton Contract

By David Ivanovich
Houston Chronicle
WASHINGTON -- Vice President Dick Cheney's staff was involved from the very start of the decision-making process that ended with Houston's Halliburton Co. being awarded a multibillion-dollar contract to perform work in Iraq, a key Democratic lawmaker said Sunday.
I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, Cheney's chief of staff, was briefed in October 2002 on a proposal to assign Halliburton the task of drawing up a secret plan for putting out oil-well fires and rebuilding Iraq infrastructure in the event of war in Iraq, said Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif., whose staff was briefed last week by Pentagon officials.
The following March, Halliburton -- without facing competition from any other bidders -- was awarded the contract to implement that plan.
At other critical junctures in the decision-making chain, political appointees insisted on hiring Halliburton, despite the objections of career employees at the Pentagon, Waxman said.
"For months, Vice President Cheney has been saying that his office was not consulted before the award of the Halliburton contracts, but that does not appear to be true," Waxman, the ranking Democrat on the House Government Reform Committee, said in a statement released Sunday.
Waxman, insisting lawmakers are not "getting straight answers from the White House," called for an independent congressional investigation.
Cheney, who served as Halliburton's chief executive officer for five years before joining the Bush presidential ticket in 2000, has long insisted he had no role in awarding contracts to the company.
"We stand by our previous statements," Cheney spokesman Kevin Kellems said Sunday evening.
Neither Cheney nor Libby had seen a letter Waxman said he had sent to the vice president on Sunday, Kellems said. The fact Waxman sent the letter on the third day of a long weekend for the federal government "speaks volumes about an interest in scoring political points," Kellems said.
The Government Reform Committee is slated to hold a hearing Tuesday regarding Halliburton and contractors performing work in Iraq.
Waxman, in a copy of the letter, pointed to a special team created before the war in Iraq called the Energy Infrastructure Planning Group. This team, led by Michael Mobbs, a political appointee and special adviser to Douglas Feith, the Defense Department's undersecretary for policy, was instrumental in getting Halliburton selected for the job, Waxman said.
Mobbs, briefing committee staffers last week, said he was told by colleagues in the government that three companies -- Halliburton, Bechtel and Fluor -- were qualified to conduct the planning study, Waxman said. Mobbs concluded Halliburton was the best company for the job.
In the October 2002 meeting, chaired by Stephen Hadley, the deputy national security adviser, administration officials discussed the plan to assign Halliburton to conduct the study.
Hadley later told Feith the group had no objection to the proposal. But lawyers for the Army Materiel Command apparently did, Waxman said.
The plan was to assign Halliburton to conduct the study under an existing contract, in which Halliburton provided logistical support such as serving up meals and washing clothes for U.S. troops.
Army Materiel Command lawyers apparently believed ordering the company to provide contingency planning for putting out oil-well fires was stretching the logistics contract too far. But the Defense Departments general counsel's office intervened and overruled their objections, Waxman said.
Congress' General Accounting Office, which has been reviewing that decision, is expected to release a final report today concluding that decision violated federal procurement rules, Waxman said.
After Halliburton had conducted the classified study, the company was selected to perform the actual oil fields repair work, a contract that could have generated revenues up to $7 billion.
Stephen Browning, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers director of regional programs for the South Pacific Division, met with Feith on March 5, 2003, and urged him to declassify some details about the contract so Halliburton could line up subcontractors, Waxman said.
On March 5, Browning sent an e-mail later unearthed by the government watchdog group Judicial Watch suggesting the Pentagon had "coordinated" with Cheney's office about releasing information about the contract. Feith, Browning wrote, had "approved, contingent on informing WH (the White House) tomorrow. We anticipate no issue, since action has been coordinated w (with) VP's office."
The work contract was awarded three days later, but the decision was not made public for another two weeks, because -- at that point -- President Bush had not announced the final decision to go to war.
Copyright 2004 Houston Chronicle Washington Bureau



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