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26 May, 2009 11:28

US Army contractor awarded bonuses despite alleged negligence

Another scandal relating to a defense contractor is brewing in the US. KBR Inc. has reportedly received massive bonuses from the Pentagon despite being under investigation for negligently causing the death of soldiers.

Engineering and construction company KBR – the US Army’s biggest private contractor in Iraq – received some $83.4 million in bonuses (not as fees) despite the current investigation into the soldier deaths.

Even worse, more than half of the sum ($48.9 million) came after Pentagon investigators considered KBR liable because of faulty wiring that electrocuted to death four soldiers and one contractor, who weren’t on service at the time.

Two of the soldiers died taking a shower in 2004 and 2008, one died a swimming pool in 2004, another soldier died operating a power washer in 2005, and a KBR contractor whose air conditioner in his living quarters shorted in 2005.

In addition to the electrocutions, hundreds of soldiers have allegedly received electrical shocks.

Jim Childs, an electrical inspector hired by the Army to help review US-run facilities in Iraq testified before the Democratic Policy Committee that 90% of KBR’s wiring in newly constructed buildings in Iraq wasn’t done properly, Reuters reports.

This means an estimated 70,000 buildings where troops lived and worked might not be safe.

The Senate Democratic Policy Committee is a research arm of the Senate Democratic leadership and conducts investigations of its own.

The Army reacted to the hearing by submitting a written statement in saying bonuses to KBR had been halted pending a review. No charges have been brought against KBR yet, but the investigation is still ongoing.

This is not the first scandal KBR has been involved in. Once a part of the company Halliburton, which was headed by Vice-President Dick Cheney, it has a de facto monopoly on many services in Iraq.

Three weeks ago a top Pentagon auditor revealed that KBR was under criminal investigation for overbilling and fraud.

Some US Senators have called for defense contracts to be made more competitive in order to have more players in the market and more choice.