"A hopeful society expects elected officials to uphold the public trust. "
- President George W. Bush, State of the Union Address, 1/31/06
Like a bad TV re-run, every couple months a new scandal explodes over Halliburton's abuse of government contracts worth hundreds of millions of dollars. And each time, the inspectors hired to investigate fraud and protect the public interest -- and their bosses in the White House -- say, "no problem."
The latest installment of this tired drama came last Monday, with an announcement that administration officials are caving on fraudulent costs Halliburton/KBR is charged with racking up from its no-bid Iraq oil reconstruction contract granted in 2003. Courtesy of Halliburton Watch:
WASHINGTON -- The Bush administration settled a dispute between the Pentagon and Halliburton by agreeing to pay the company nearly all of $208 million in costs in Iraq and Kuwait that were criticized in one of the official military audits of the company, an international accounting agency announced today.
The settlement, announced by the International Advisory Monitoring Board (IAMB) -- an independent accounting agency that monitors Iraq's oil finances -- allows Halliburton to keep $199 million of the $208 million in gasoline costs paid by the Pentagon, but disputed in the audit.
The Bush administration's passion for saving taxpayer money apparently wanes when confronted with corporations fleecing the government:
Government audits have repeatedly criticized KBR's pricing and accounting methods but, in 2005, the Pentagon paid the company $1.4 billion in Iraq costs disputed by its own auditors. Last May, the military even paid $72 million in bonus payments to "reward" KBR's work in Iraq.
The Bush administration initially concealed critical conclusions in the Task Order 5 audit, including KBR's $208 million fuel overcharge and another $62 million in "unreasonable" fuel transport costs.
The White House is sending a clear message to would-be corporate outlaws: go for it. And keep doing it -- just last week, the Department of Homeland Security gave Halliburton/KBR a $385 million, five-year contract for "emergency support services."
Halliburton spokesman Bruce Stanski credited their success in raking in the contract to the company's "extremely strong track record."