Ike Was Right
by Stephen Pizzo
- Oct 10 2003
Talk about sticker shock. The condition of the country was far
worse than anyone dared imagine. Engineers released their findings
this September and, using a grammar school grading system, they
assigned grades to describe the state of disrepair they found.
The country's roads got a D+. Aviation
infrastructure got a D. Schools a D minus. Wastewater treatment
facilities, a D. Dams, a D. Hazardous waste storage a D+. And,
even though the nation is a major oil producer, the energy sector
got a D+.
In all, the experts said it would take
more than $1.6 trillion over the next five years to bring the
country's infrastructure up to modern standards.
Oh, wait. I bet you thought I was talking
No. The report I am citing was released
this September by the American Society of Civil Engineers and
it described the condition of America's infrastructure. In it,
the ASCE warned that America's critical infrastructure was "crumbling"
and ongoing neglect would add $300 billion a year to the repair
bill. The ASCE recommended the creation of an emergency White
House commission to start dealing with the problem.
Yet the same week ASCE released its report,
President Bush asked Congress to quickly approve an additional
$87 billion in emergency fundingófor Iraqóof which
around $22 billion would be used to repair and upgrade Iraq's
infrastructure. (That figure has since been trimmed to around
$20 billion in Congress.) The president made no mention of the
ASCE's report and no additional money was requested for United
There are all too many obvious ironies
in this. When George W. Bush campaigned for office his distain
for "nation building" knew no bounds. It wasn't America's
business, he said, to run around the world fixing broken nation-states
at American taxpayer's expense.
Once in office, key Bush supporters decided
the President was wrong about that. The business of nation building
could be very good business indeed.
So now hundreds of billions of U.S. tax
dollars are flowing to a handful of large, well-connected U.S.
companies, not to repair and improve America's communication,
transportation, education or energy infrastructure, but those
of Iraq and Afghanistan . This is nothing less than the very military-industrial
complex President Dwight Eisenhower famously warned against before
The U.S. companies getting the bulk of
Iraq/Afghanistan infrastructure contracts can be counted on one
mutilated hand; Bechtel, Halliburton, SAIC, Fluor. Virtually all
the prime contracts were issued on a no-bid basis. (Try that with
any large domestic infrastructure project and the unions and taxpayer
right's groups would be all over the administration like flies
on camel dung.)
So, as you bump your way to work today
on pothole-studded streets understand that the cost of your new
suspension is a small price to pay for the smooth 1,200-kilometer
highway being built in Afghanistan on a $300 million contract
to U.S. engineering firm Louis Berger Group.
Then there's the $240 million earmarked
to improve Iraq's roads and bridges. And, even as the Bush administration
fights subsidies for Amtrak, another $303 million in U.S. funds
is going to upgrade Iraq's railroads. Bechtel will oversee much
of this work.
Ironically, on the same day the ASCEs
released their infrastructure report, the Edison Electric Institute
released its report on the state of the nation's electrical grid
- which had recently gotten everyone's attention with a major
northeast/Midwest blackout. The EEI told the Bush administration
that in order to meet demand, "capital investments in upgrades
and new transmission lines must increase from the current level
of $3 billion annually to $5.5 billion annually over the next
In other words, an additional $25 billion
is needed to keep America's lights on.
Instead the president requested $5.5 billion
- the first installment - to begin modernizing Iraq's power grid,
a job that Iraq's U.S. Administrator L. Paul Bremer says may cost
up to $13 billion. Then there's fixing Iraq's water systemsóanother
$16 billon. Bechtel is the prime contractor on those jobs, too.
The contrasts continue. According to federal
housing officials, the government will only be able to fund 5,000
new public housing units this year. Meanwhile the administration
has earmarked $470 million to create 20,000 public housing units
in Iraq. Another $40 million will go to building 275 new schools
in Iraq and provide teachers and supplies to 12,500 schools. Prime
contractors for these Iraqi programs are U.S. companies, Bechtel
and Creative Associates.
Ten years ago, President Bill Clinton
pushed legislation to put more cops on the street. The Bush administration
has since eliminated all direct funding for street cops. Now,
with money short and so many military reservistsómany of
whom are cops in civilian lifeóon active duty, cities and
counties find themselves dangerously short of police, fire and
other first responders.
Nevertheless, while American law enforcement
goes begging, the administration has been generous in letting
contracts to rebuild Iraq's civil and military policing. There
is the $2 billion to build a new Iraqi army and another $470 million
to fund civilian police, judges, courts and related law enforcement
services. U.S.-based DynCorp and its parent company, Computer
Sciences Corp., are the prime contractors here. Heavy contributors
to President Bush and the Republican Party, the company has provided
police training and other security services to the Pentagon in
other hot spots as well, including Bosnia where DynCorp employees
were accused of running a sex ring involving under-age girls.
And then of course, there is Halliburton.
The "no-bid contract" trend started when Dick Cheney
served as Secretary of Defense under President George H.W. Bush.
Cheney hired Halliburton subsidiary, Brown & Root Services
(now Kellogg, Brown & Root), paying the company nearly $4
million to study how the defense department might cut costs by
privatizing much of its non-combat activities.
Apparently the advice he got for our $4
million was to hire Brown & Root. Under the new scheme all
those troublesome and time-consuming open bids would be eliminated
and replaced with an open-ended contract with KBR. The program,
approved by Cheney, is called the Logistics Civil Augmentation
Program (LOGCAP). The Pentagon describes LOGCAP's no-bid contracts
as "cost-plus-award-fee, indefinite-delivery/indefinite-quantity
Shortly after LOGCAP went into effect
the election of Bill Clinton freed Dick Cheney to pursue other
interests and he became CEO of Halliburton. Most of Halliburton's
defense work now comes through KBR's LOGCAP contract, which has
made KBR the de facto quartermaster for the US Army.
Among other things, U.S. taxpayers are
paying KBR to:
Provide housing for 100,000 soldiers in
Repair oil facilities in Iraq;
Build enenmy prisioner of war camps in
Iraq and Afghanistan;
Provide logistical support for David Kay's
Iraqi Survey Group searching for Iraq's illusive weapons of mass
KBR was hired to build 400 new prison
cells at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, to house captured Taliban fighters.
Let me conclude by making an observation.
Conservatives are correct when the praise the opportunity-creating
power of the free-enterprise system. But the Defense Department's
privatization of huge chunks of its operations out to a handful
of very large, very well-connected companies is crony capitalism.
This is walking right into the tar pit that Eisenhower had warned
against half a century ago.
Did Bechtel, Halliburton and the others
engineer America's wars in Afghanistan and Iraq? No, of course
not. That would be too cynical and simplistic. But, these firms
are opportunists and they have the connections to profit in wartime.
And so we are left to ponder. America's
infrastructure is mess and getting worse. Instead of spending
the additional $25 billion needed to repair it, the administration
is handing nearly the same amount in contracts out to a small
number of U.S. companies to repair Iraq's infrastructure instead.
Had that money been allocated for U.S. infrastructure the contracts
would have been, by law, subject to open bidding and would therefore
have been divvied up among hundreds of companies, small and large,
across the country. In the old days, they called that a domestic
economic stimulus plan.
For more information on some of the companies
mentioned above, check this Misleader.org report .