Congress questions no-bid Iraq reconstruction contracts

Members of Congress pressed Thursday for a public explanation of why Iraq reconstruction contracts were awarded by federal agencies without full competition, the Associated Press reported.

Language inserted in defense spending bills pending in both houses would require the government to explain limited bidding-or contracts awarded without competition-by publishing a justification in either the Federal Register or the Commerce Business Daily.

Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., chief sponsor of the Senate language, said, "By insisting on sunshine in this contracting process, the Senate has done the right thing by every American taxpayer. In these tough economic times, the government simply can't continue to award billion-dollar contracts behind a veil of secrecy, with no accountability to the public."

The language inserted by some lawmakers was prompted by policies of the Agency for International Development and the Army Corps of Engineers. AID has allowed only a small number of invited firms to bid for rebuilding work in Iraq and awarded the main contract to Bechtel National, part of the Bechtel Corp., which has had several prominent Republicans as top executives.

The Corps acted without competition to give the KBR subsidiary of Halliburton, formerly run by Vice President Dick Cheney, a contract to revive Iraq's oil industry.

The legislation would require the government to justify how federal officials identified contractors invited to bid and how they solicited offers.