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July 30, 2009

Report Confirms Poor Electrical Work by KBR Endangers US Troops in Iraq and Afghanistan

Posted in: Afghanistan,Iraq,Oversight,War profiteering

There’s a new and damning report (PDF) from the Department of Defense Inspector General on its investigation into the electrocution death of Staff Sgt. Ryan Maseth. The report concludes that Staff Sgt. Maseth’s death was the result of shoddy electrical work, electrical work performed by U.S. military contractor KBR.

It also concludes that the Army failed to properly oversee KBR’s work, allowing the danger to U.S. troops from KBR’s work to continue and persist not only on Ryan Maseth’s base, but throughout Iraq (PDF) and Afghanistan (PDF).

Up to now, KBR has denied any link between its work and the electric shocks and electrocutions of soldiers on U.S. Army bases in Iraq. This report should make it impossible for the company to continue to deny the facts.

As outlined in the Inspector General’s report, the conduct of both KBR and the Army is simply unacceptable. Both need to stop making excuses and start taking steps to protect U.S troops and taxpayers.

Staff Sgt. Maseth was a 24-year-old Green Beret from Pennsylvania. In January 2008, he was electrocuted as he showered in his barracks on a U.S. military base in Iraq. The Army first told his family that he died because he took an electrical appliance into the shower. His courageous mother, Cheryl Harris, rejected that explanation.

Mrs. Harris appeared at a Senate Democratic Policy Committee hearing I chaired on July 11, 2008 as we investigated shoddy electrical work by KBR in Iraq and Afghanistan. We also heard from whistleblowers that day, some of them former KBR employees who had first-hand, on site experience with KBR’s electrical work. We found evidence of widespread failure by KBR to take even the most basic steps to ensure its electrical work was safe. Whistleblowers told us KBR routinely hired non-electricians to perform electrical work, and that non-electricians were routinely hired to supervise their work.

They told us that even the most basic work – proper grounding, for example – was either not done at all, or performed so haphazardly it was a clear, obvious and immediate danger.

Meanwhile, KBR continued to deny any connection between its electrical work and the electrical shocks and even deaths in Iraq and Afghanistan. The Army continued to churn out excuses like the one initially given to Cheryl Harris.

Following the hearing, I immediately asked for a complete review of KBR’s electrical work in Iraq and Afghanistan and for a new investigation into Staff Sgt. Maseth’s death.

The results are now in.

The Inspector General concludes that KBR failed to ground equipment which contributed to the electrocution death of Staff Sgt. Maseth. The IG also found that KBR failed to: employ personnel with adequate electrical training and expertise; report improperly grounded equipment the company had identified; and perform its work in the ‘skillful and workmanlike manner’ required by the contract.

The IG also reports that prior to Sgt. Maseth’s electrocution, there were 230 incidents of electric shocks in KBR-maintained facilities in Iraq from September 2006 to July 2008 – far more than should have necessary to alert KBR or Army officials that there was a major problem that needed urgent attention.

According to the IG, KBR’s shoddy and dangerous electrical work is a widespread, not isolated, problem in both Iraq and Afghanistan. The Inspector General reports that so far, that review has found more than 53,000 sites at U.S. Army bases in those countries that needed urgent, major repairs.

It is outrageous that U.S. troops have been injured and died because KBR, the largest military contractor in Iraq and Afghanistan, performed its work in a reckless manner.

It is astounding that KBR continues to receive contracts for work in Iraq. Its many failures are now obvious, massive and cover a wide-range of activities.

It is unbelievable that KBR actually received an $83.4 million bonus for its contract for electrical work in Iraq, even though according to the Department of Defense’sInspector General, KBR’s work endangered and even killed U.S. troops.

I am renewing my call for the Pentagon to recoup the $83.4 million in bonuses paid to KBR under LOGCAP III Task Order 139 for its shoddy electrical work.

I also want to know what the Army is doing to improve its selection and oversight of military contractors in Iraq and Afghanistan. The safety and very lives of U.S. soldiers depends on prompt, corrective action.



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