WASHINGTON (AFP) — US contracts in Iraq and Afghanistan more than doubled from 2004 to 2006 to over 25 billion dollars but government oversight of the firms involved has slackened, a watchdog group said Monday.
"While the billions of dollars involved and the complexity of these war-related contracts has only grown, the lack of oversight has been staggering," said Bill Buzenberg, head of the Center for Public Integrity.
The study by the independent center said government outsourcing for the two war theaters was marred by issues such as a lack of competitive bidding, missing contracts and unidentified companies.
The construction and services company KBR, formally known as Kellogg, Brown and Root and a subsidiary of oil-services giant Halliburton until April, topped the list with more than 16 billion dollars in US contracts from 2004 to 2006.
Halliburton was led from 1995 to 2000 by Vice President Dick Cheney, one of the most hawkish voices in the administration of President George W. Bush in the run-up to the 2003 invasion of Iraq.
DynCorp International, a provider of private security services to State Department personnel, was a distant second with 1.8 billion dollars in contracts.
Washington Group International, a rival to KBR in building and engineering, was third with just over one billion dollars.
Blackwater, whose security guards were accused of opening fire indiscriminately on Iraqi civilians in a deadly September incident in Baghdad, ranked 12th with 485 million dollars in contracts.
Just ahead of Blackwater was First Kuwaiti General Trading and Contracting, which has been accused of holding foreign laborers against their will to help build the new US embassy in Baghdad. The firm denies the charge.
Topping KBR's haul, 20.4 billion dollars was awarded for services from "unidentified foreign entities" not identified in US government contracts.
The Center for Public Integrity, which says it is a non-partisan group that investigates major public issues, said it was seeking more information on those contracts through the Freedom of Information Act.
The group said that 31 of the contractors on the top 100 list were foreign, including 12 from Turkey.
Overall, US government contracts for work in Iraq and Afghanistan have grown from 11 billion dollars in 2004 to almost 17 billion in 2005 and more than 25 billion last year, the study said.
The center quoted US Comptroller General David Walker as saying, in an interview for the study, that there were particular problems with lack of oversight for military contracting.
"We have identified about 15 systemic, longstanding acquisition and contracting problems that exist within the Defense Department -- which is the single biggest contractor within the US government -- that we are still not making enough progress on," he said.
One official inquiry by the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction found that the State Department was unable to say what it was receiving for much of the money given to DynCorp.
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