In the last decade, US Naval Base Guantanamo Bay has been big news. It has housed Haitian and Cuban refugees, it is the prison complex for thousands of Afghan and Iraq war detainees, as well as “enemy combatants” with US citizenship. It has at the same time lost several tenant commands and been the fictional subject of a feature film. One of the last things most people think about when they think of “Gitmo” is a place of hundreds of millions of dollars in new development. But it is just that.
The base has undertaken, beginning in June 2003, a 300 million dollar make-over, to be designed, built and maintained by Haliburton subsidiary Kellogg, Brown & Root. Haliburton was led by Vice President Dick Cheney until his assumption of that office in 2001.
The work to be performed includes new facilities for traffic control checkpoints (main and secondary checkpoints), troop bed-down facility, troop dining facility and destructive weather improvements to detention facility structures. The project will also include site work, heating, ventilation and air-conditioning, plumbing and electrical work, as required for the various facilities.
This contract has been criticized for being non-competitive and open-ended. The original contract, of which this is technically a “modification to Task Order 0038,” was awarded to Kellogg, Brown & Root in February of last year.
At that time the company beat out 44 other bidders for an initial $7 million contract to build steel detention cages. The current “modification” has been described as a “cost-reimbursement, indefinite-delivery/indefinite-quantity construction contract.” The auditing arm of Congress itself strongly recommended that new bids be solicited for the contract.
At the time the contract was awarded as a “modification,” Haliburton was under investigation by federal authorities in California for fraud. The company had been accused of inflating costs during a job at the now-closed Fort Ord. It settled with government for $2 million.
Although this is the extent of the Navy contract at Guantanamo, the other current Brown & Root contracts tie in.
From 1992 through 1999, the Army paid Brown & Root $1.2 billion to support U.S. troops, mainly in the Balkans. An extension of that contract from 1999 through 2004 is projected to cost $1.8 billion.
On another similar contract, the Army has paid Brown & Root $13.7 million since the contract began Feb. 1 to provide food, laundry and other support services to U.S. troops in the former Soviet republics of Georgia and Uzbekistan.
The full extent of the Brown & Root contracts, including, most recently, those for troop support in Iraq, further deepens the picture.
A great deal of money is changing hands, a great deal of work is being done, in a place of military importance and minimal transparency. It is part of a much larger and very consistent pattern of open-ended contracts that the government, through the military, has entered into. The possibility for fraud at worst, and unaccountability at best, could lead to great cost overruns at a time when the government — and the business environment — can least afford them.