At long last, the Army has taken a first step in holding contractor KBR accountable for its shoddy electrical work at U.S. military bases in Iraq. It has denied millions of dollars in bonuses to the firm for its 2008 work in Iraq.
That is the right call. But it is only a first step.
I chaired two Senate Democratic Policy Committee (DPC) hearings in 2008 and 2009 on KBR's shoddy electrical work in Iraq. The hearings revealed widespread problems with KBR's electrical work there, including countless electrical shocks -- including one that killed Staff Sgt. Ryan Maseth. There were many other reports of soldiers who were electrically shocked and injured on their own bases as they showered and engaged in other routine activities.
Following the hearings, I wrote the Army and asked that it review KBR's work and the electrocution death of Staff Sgt. Ryan Maseth. I also asked the Army to re-evaluate the millions of dollars in bonuses it has routinely awarded KBR for supposedly excellent work, even when the Army's own evidence made clear that work was highly questionable.
The Army's investigation of Maseth's January 2008 death found that KBR's work exposed soldiers to "unacceptable risk." A theatre-wide safety review that resulted from my request -- Task Force SAFE -- also found widespread problems with KBR's electrical work that exposed soldiers to life threatening risks.
The decision to deny KBR millions in bonuses for its work in 2008 is welcome news, and is a significant change from the Army's past practice, but the Army clearly needs go much further. Specifically, it needs to review the $34 million bonus and other bonuses it awarded KBR for shoddy work that may have contributed to other electrocution deaths and other serious electrical shocks.
The Army's decision will send a long overdue message to military contractors that they will be held accountable for their performance. But the Army needs to send that message much more powerfully. Not awarding a bonus for widespread sloppy contracting work that killed soldiers is just the beginning, not the end point, of accountability.