WASHINGTON – The Senate went on record Thursday in favor of full competition for companies seeking to help rebuild Iraq, and Congress pressed for a public explanation when contracts are awarded without open bidding.
The Senate, by voice vote, placed nonbinding language in a defense spending bill that sought to change, as soon as possible, the policies of the U.S. Agency for International Development (search) and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (search).
Both the House and Senate asked the Bush administration to publish justifications for the lack of competition. The Senate specifically asked the corps to quickly replace a noncompetitive award to a subsidiary of Halliburton (search), the company formerly run by Vice President Dick Cheney.
Cheney's office has said Cheney had no role in the contract decision and has no involvement with the company.
USAID has allowed only a small number of invited company to bid for rebuilding work in Iraq. The agency awarded the main contract to Bechtel National, part of the Bechtel Corp. (search), which has had several prominent Republicans as top executives.
The corps gave Halliburton's KBR subsidiary a contract to extinguish Iraq's oil fires and then expanded the work to include revival of the country's oil industry.
Senate language sponsored by Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., stated that the Defense Department should meet its goal of having a fully competitive replacement contract awarded by Aug. 31, or advise Congress why the noncompetitive contract should continue.
The disclosure provisions in both the House and Senate would require the government to justify how federal officials identified contractors invited to bid and how the officials solicited offers. A list of companies receiving solicitations would be published, along with any documents justifying the lack of open bidding.
Officials of the corps and USAID have said that a full competition would have taken too long to meet the urgent needs of Iraq following the recent war.
Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., chief sponsor of the Senate language, said that "by insisting on sunshine in this contracting process, the Senate has done the right thing by every American taxpayer."
The information would be published in either the Federal Register or the Commerce Business Daily if the provision in the pending legislation becomes law.