Saturday, March 13, 2004

Halliburton overcharging 

I'm as disgusted as anyone by the administration's blatant favoritism in awarding Iraqi reconstruction contracts to Halliburton, but I think people are getting too worked up over the most recent spate of allegations that Halliburton and its subsidiaries are overcharging the government for work in Iraq.

Let me try to argue the other side for a minute. Halliburton has tasks ranging from rehabilitating Iraq's oil industry to dealing with environmental damage, constructing military bases and feeding US troops. Just think about the logistical issues involved: daily terrorist attacks, irregular warfare, the language barrier, destroyed infrastructure, problems with electricity, roads and running water. We're dealing with the occupation and reconstruction of a country. Of course  there's going to be a lot of inefficiency. Are there going to be accounting problems? You bet. Are some of those problems deliberate instances of corruption? Probably. By all means, Halliburton should be audited and instances of overcharging should be investigated. But considering the enormous size and complexity of what is being undertaken in Iraq, I just don't think these overcharging stories are such a big deal.

I'm not saying Halliburton is doing a great job reconstructing Iraq. It's hard to know whether or not they're doing a good job. What I'm saying is that in a task as vast, difficult and necessarily improvised as reconstructing a country, there will always be a certain amount of inefficiency and corruption. We should take all possible steps to minimize corruption, but we should be willing to tolerate certain levels of corruption as unavoidable.

Let's not lose sight of the real outrage. The Vice President's former company won billions of dollars in unbid government contracts. That's our tax dollars going to Dick Cheney's friends, who didn't even have to go to the trouble of proving they were the most qualified to rebuild Iraq.
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