WASHINGTON -- Members of Congress have asked Defense Secretary Robert Gates to review a $35 million contract awarded to a company under criminal investigation in the electrocution deaths of U.S. soldiers in Iraq.
The Associated Press reported earlier this month that Houston-based KBR Inc. was given the contract by the Army Corps of Engineers to design and build a convoy support center at Camp Adder in southern Iraq that includes a power plant and electrical distribution center. The contract was awarded a few months after a senior Pentagon official rejected the company's explanation of mistakes in Iraq and said some defense officials had lost confidence is KBR's ability to do electrical work.
The Department of Defense's inspector general is currently reviewing the electrocution deaths of 18 troops and contractors in Iraq.
Some of the deaths involve faulty electrical work, and military criminal investigators have opened probes into five of the deaths.
Army investigators have reclassified the death of Sgt. Ryan Maseth, 24, a Green Beret from Pittsburgh, as a negligent homicide caused by KBR and two of its supervisors. Maseth was electrocuted in his barracks shower. An Army investigator said KBR failed to ensure work was done by qualified electricians and plumbers. The case is under legal review, and KBR has said it was not responsible for Maseth's death.
Maseth's family and that of another soldier electrocuted have filed suit against KBR.
The letter by Rep. Carol Shea-Porter, D-N.H., was dated Wednesday and signed by 18 other House members. The members questioned why KBR was awarded a contract that includes "the type of work that KBR failed to perform adequately for years."
"Threats to the safety and lives of soldiers or others because of known hazards and negligent performance of work are not acceptable," the letter said.
Chris Isleib, a Defense Department spokesman, said Friday in a statement that Gates would review the letter and respond.
"We take seriously our obligations to the taxpayers with regard to any contract that we issue," Isleib said. "The matter of proper electrical work in Iraq is of utmost importance to the safety of our troops."
KBR spokeswoman Heather Browne said Friday in an e-mail that the members' assertions about the quality of KBR's work are not true. The company denies wrongdoing in any of the deaths, and says in 17 out of the 18 electrocutions there is no evidence that KBR had any relevant maintenance responsibility or involvement.