A RAND Corporation report written in 2005 but withheld until this week paints an unflattering portrait of U.S. government planning for postwar Iraq. The Army, which commissioned the report, reportedly kept it under wraps to avoid antagonizing then-Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld.
The 273-page document also looks at the role of contractors in the initial period after the U.S. invasion (through June 2004), but for some reason it is much gentler in its treatment of the private-sector participants in the disastrous reconstruction effort. The report notes the slow progress in restoring Iraq’s oil industry and its output of electricity, but the contractors in charge of those efforts—KBR for oil and Bechtel for power, with additional work on electricity commissioned from Washington Group International, Fluor and Perini—are not directly blamed. Instead, the Coalition Provisional Authority and U.S. Agency for International Development come out looking bad, and delays are attributed to the poor security situation.
There is, however, one company that RAND does not handle with kid gloves—Bechtel, in connection with a school building contract. Military commanders, the report says, “complained that school reconstruction under the Bechtel contract was proceeding too slowly, that work was sometimes substandard, and that subcontractors were overpaid” (p.227).
RAND can perhaps be excused for largely missing the boat about contractor screw-ups in Iraq, given that the main revelations came to light after the study was drafted. It was right after RAND completed its research that Stuart W. Bowen Jr. (photo), the special inspector general for Iraq reconstruction, issued the first in a series of scathing audits about both the contractors and the agencies that were supposed to be overseeing their work.
The RAND report reinforces what we know about the shortcomings in the U.S. government’s handling of postwar Iraq, but it will take another account to tell the whole story of the role of contractors in that debacle.