The New York Times reports:
The Army official who managed the Pentagon’s largest contract in Iraq says he was ousted from his job when he refused to approve paying more than $1 billion in questionable charges to KBR, the Houston-based company that has provided food, housing and other services to American troops.
The official, Charles M. Smith, was the senior civilian overseeing the multibillion-dollar contract with KBR during the first two years of the war. Speaking out for the first time, Mr. Smith said that he was forced from his job in 2004 after informing KBR officials that the Army would impose escalating financial penalties if they failed to improve their chaotic Iraqi operations.
Army auditors had determined that KBR lacked credible data or records for more than $1 billion in spending, so Mr. Smith refused to sign off on the payments to the company. “They had a gigantic amount of costs they couldn’t justify,” he said in an interview. “Ultimately, the money that was going to KBR was money being taken away from the troops, and I wasn’t going to do that.”
But he was suddenly replaced, he said, and his successors — after taking the unusual step of hiring an outside contractor to consider KBR’s claims — approved most of the payments he had tried to block.
Soon after Mr. Smith was replaced, the Army hired a contractor, RCI Holding Corporation, to review KBR’s costs. “They came up with estimates, using very weak data from KBR,” Mr. Smith said. “They ignored D.C.A.A.’s auditors,” he said, referring to the Defense Contract Audit Agency.
Lt. Col. Brian Maka, a Pentagon spokesman, disputed that. He said in a statement that the Army auditing agency “does not believe that RCI was used to circumvent” the Army audits.
Paul Heagen, a spokesman for RCI’s parent company, the Serco Group, said his firm had insisted on working with the Army auditors. While KBR did not provide all of the data Mr. Smith had been seeking, Mr. Heagen said his company had used “best practices” and sound methodology to determine KBR’s costs.
Bob Bauman, a former Pentagon fraud investigator and contracting expert, said that was unusual. “I have never seen a contractor given that position, of estimating costs and scrubbing D.C.A.A.’s numbers,” he said. “I believe they are treading on dangerous ground.”
The Army also convened boards that awarded KBR high performance bonuses, according to Mr. Smith.
High grades on its work in Iraq also allowed KBR to win more work from the Pentagon, and this spring, KBR was awarded a share in the new 10-year contract. The Army also announced that Serco, RCI’s parent, will help oversee the Army’s new contract with KBR.
(Italics are mine)
Serco has been hired to oversee the whole Iraq operation. I wonder if the situation becomes somewhat analagous to Anderson and Enron? These changes are astounding in magnitude.