GAO to broadly probe Iraq contracts

The General Accounting Office will launch a broad-scale probe into methods and secrecy that surrounds awarding of contracts to rebuild Iraq, Comptroller General David Walker said Thursday in an interview with National Journal Group reporters.

But Walker said he had rejected as inappropriately partisan the specific request from House Government Reform ranking member Henry Waxman, D-Calif., and House Energy and Commerce ranking member John Dingell, D-Mich., to investigate whether KBR, the engineering division of Halliburton formerly known as Kellogg Brown & Root, received "favorable treatment" in being awarded a contract by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

"We're not going to do work targeting particular contractors," Walker said. "I believe that has a partisan tint." Walker said that as part of the broader review, it was "highly likely Halliburton will come into the scope," but he said no company would be singled out for scrutiny. Vice President Dick Cheney was Halliburton's CEO before President Bush picked him for the 2000 GOP ticket.

In a wide-ranging interview today with National Journal and CongressDaily reporters, Walker said his agency's probe will be wider than an internal inspector general investigation under way by the U.S. Agency For International Development, which has come under fire from members of Congress, including Senate Governmental Affairs Chairwoman Susan Collins, R-Maine, and ranking member Joseph Lieberman, D-Conn. They were critical of the deliberations surrounding a $600 million contract to start rebuilding Iraq. AID on Thursday evening awarded the contract, which could be worth up to $680 million over 18 months, to Bechtel Restoration of San Francisco.

Walker said his agency would see what the AID inspector general does. "We'll consider that to the extent appropriate, but .... I expect we are going to do something more extensive than what I understand they did." He also said his agency's investigation will be wider than just probing AID, a lead agency in making Iraq reconstruction contracts, and include others that issue contracts.

On another controversial matter, Walker said it was strictly a "business decision" not to appeal a U.S. District Court ruling against GAO, which had sued to get information about the energy task force headed by Cheney. He said that a majority of Democrats and a "super majority" of Republicans he has talked to had felt he should not appeal. Asked if he had received any "threats" regarding the court case, he said only in "one circumstance" did he get what he described as a "thinly veiled threat" not to file the original lawsuit. It came from "a senior member of Congress" who mentioned Walker's budget situation, he said, but he would not identify the legislator.

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