Thursday, July 30, 2009

Watchdog Groups Allege Mirky Connections between Bechtel and Gov't

Bechtel Corp. one of the three outside firms who helped plan and design the 160 parking spots, (Its billable hours and payment have not yet been disclosed), has an interesting history procuring profits from the federal government according to the Center for Public Integrity:

"Bechtel's relationships with policymakers and officeholders dates back to the early part of the Twentieth century when Stephen D. Bechtel (shown) partnered with John A. McCone, who went on to become chief of the CIA under President John F. Kennedy and introduced the Bechtels to many influential figures.

In the 1970s, Bechtel hired a slew of government officials to help with its expanding international operations: former Secretary of Health, Education and Welfare Casper Weinberger (who would leave in 1980 to serve as Reagan's Defense Secretary); Atomic Energy Commission chief executive Robert Hollingsworth; former ambassador to Turkey and Saudi Arabia Parker T. Hart; and John G. Dillon, a retired rear admiral who directed the Pentagon's construction policy."

Among other shenanigans, "Bechtel is also the subject of a review ordered by Gov. Mitt Romney of Massachusetts over its handling of the nation's largest urban transit construction project in Boston. Known as the "Big Dig" for the giant, 10-lane tunnel it aims to install under city streets, the project, contracted to Bechtel and construction firm Parsons Brinkerhoff in 1985, is currently about $1.6 billion over budget."

Bechtel also caught a lot of heat for its lucrative role in cleaning up after Hurricane Katrina. See the Washington Post article about it.

Bechtel was one of 4 large firms with extensive government ties to win a $500 million no-bid contract from the Federal Emergency Management Agency. A year later, the Government Accountability Office would show that three of the companies had lost millions in taxpayer money due to poor planning. In all, the 4 firms secured $3 billion from September 2005 to March 2007.

From a 2007 PBS Interview with a New Orleans lawmaker:

(PBS) JEFFREY KAYE: After Katrina, FEMA awarded no-bid trailer contracts to four well-connected companies. FEMA gave the Mississippi contract to the Bechtel Corporation, one of the largest engineering, construction and project management companies in the world.

REP. GENE TAYLOR (D),R Mississippi: They did a crummy job, and they can't tell me otherwise because I'm from here.

JEFFREY KAYE: Democratic Congressman Gene Taylor is building a new house on the property in Bay St. Louis, Mississippi, where his old home, destroyed by Katrina, once stood. He's been a dogged critic of Bechtel.

REP. GENE TAYLOR: I know the people that were hurt by their lack of actions, and I know how much money they squandered that could have been done a heck of a lot cheaper, and they'll never convince me otherwise.

JEFFREY KAYE: Taylor says FEMA gave Bechtel a cost-plus contract, which pays for expenses and overruns and offers no motivation to minimize costs.

REP. GENE TAYLOR: The more money they spend, the more people they hire, the more needless layers of bureaucracy they put in there, they get paid a profit on top of every expenditure they run up.

Bechtel also played a controversial role rebuilding Iraq, leading to major federal investigations into whether the money it and other firms were awarded were properly spent.

In a
2003 article, CorpWatch alleged that Bechtel Corp and its owner had built a tangled web with the federal government, landing countless million and billion dollar contracts along the way.

'After the company's owner, Riley Bechtel, (son of Stephen) was appointed as the Bush Administration's adviser on how to create markets for American companies overseas, his firm's first contract in Iraq covered virtually all the major projects in the war-torn country including "seaports, two international and three domestic airports, potable water, electric power plants, roads, railroads, schools, hospitals and irrigation systems.'

At the time, CorpWatch's Pratap Chatterjee noted that some lawmakers were pushing for a bill that would force 'the government to explain publicly how contracts have been awarded under a limited bidding process.'

Ron Wyden, a Democratic Senator from Oregon, sponsored the bill."You look at this process, which is secret, limited or closed bidding, and you have to ask yourself: `Why are these companies being picked?' Wyden, told the New York Times.

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