WASHINGTON — Military contractor KBR Inc. was paid $83.4 million in bonuses for electrical work in Iraq — much of it after the U.S. military's contract management agency recognized the contractor was doing shoddy electrical work, a senator said Wednesday.
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Sen. Byron Dorgan, a Democrat, said he learned of the bonuses from Pentagon documents. Dorgan chairs the Democrats' Policy Committee, which examined at a hearing the electrocution deaths of U.S. troops in Iraq.
At least three troops have been electrocuted while showering in Iraq, and others have been injured and killed in other electrical incidents. KBR, which has the responsibility of maintaining electrical work in tens of thousands of U.S. facilities in Iraq, has denied any responsibility in the deaths.
But Dorgan said evidence suggests KBR's work was involved in some of the deaths. He said $34 million in bonuses was paid three months after Green Beret Staff Sgt. Ryan Maseth, 24, was electrocuted while showering in his barracks in Iraq on Jan. 2, 2008. Maseth's family has sued KBR, alleging wrongful death.
"How could it be that, given these obviously widespread problems with KBR's electrical work, the Pentagon decided to give KBR bonuses totaling $83.4 million for such work?" Dorgan said.
KBR was once a subsidiary of Halliburton, the oil services company once headed by Dick Cheney before his two terms as vice president.
Improper work in every building
In a letter Tuesday to Dorgan distributed at the hearing, Deputy Secretary of Defense William Lynn said KBR has not received any such bonuses for work performed after Jan. 1, 2008, and no additional such awards will be given until a comprehensive review is conducted.
Jim Childs, an electrical inspector hired by the Army to help inspect U.S.-run facilities in Iraq testified that 90 percent of the wiring done by KBR in newly constructed buildings was done improperly. He said that means that an estimated 70,000 buildings where troops live and work in Iraq were not up to code.
Childs worked in Iraq for the military's Task Force SAFE, which was created last year to inspect and oversee repairs in about 90,000 U.S.-maintained facilities in Iraq. The AP has reported previously that about a third of the inspections conducted have so far turned up major electrical problems.
"When I began inspecting the electrical work performed by KBR, my co-workers and I found improper electrical work in every building we inspected," Childs said.
Childs said even after rewiring was done by KBR in the building in Iraq where Maseth died, electrical problems persisted for several months.
Heather Browne, a KBR spokeswoman, said in a statement that KBR was not responsible for the deaths, and the company is cooperating.
"The assertion that KBR has a track record of shoddy electrical work is unfounded," Browne said.
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