As Waters Recede, Watch Who Cleans Up

Do you think it's a coincidence that Dick Cheney and the disaster lobby showed up to assess the damage the same day Congress is pushing a "very impressive" $50 billion through without any consideration for contractor accountability?

Cheney's in Mississippi while Joe Allbaugh, the former head of FEMA is helping clients obtain disaster relief contracts in Louisiana, the Washington Post reported today.

Among Allbaugh's many clients is Cheney's old firm, Halliburton, which got its first cleanup order last week, under an ongoing $500 million Navy contract that it renewed in 2004, before Allbaugh joined the team and started rolling in the Hallibacon.

A Halliburton spokesperson says KBR "hired Joe Allbaugh in February 2005 as a consultant to provide strategy support to its Government and Infrastructure business. Since that time, Mr. Allbaugh has not consulted on any specific contracts that the company is considering pursuing, nor has he been tasked by the company with any lobbying responsibilities."

Neither, of course, has Mr. Cheney.

But if that's so, then why did Allbaugh register as a lobbyist? Of course, we can't expect much of an explanation from a guy who told the National Journal in 2004: "I don't buy the 'revolving door' argument. This is America. We all have a right to make a living."

In fact, The Hill reports that Allbaugh is beginning to stuff his rolodex with potential contractors that could reap the windfalls of reconstruction in the gulf, just like he did in Iraq, when he formed New Bridge Strategies with Haley Barbour.

That was kind of a bust, given that foreign investors weren't too keen to come crashing in. But this time, who knows? Not only is Cheney hovering in the background, but Allbaugh (who was also Cheney's campaign manager in 2000 when, like a well-wired contractor that rigs the bidding process to make his competition ineligible, Cheney selected himself to be Bush's running mate) can also count on his ex-business partner who is conveniently the governor of Mississippi.

Of course Allbaugh insists he's not down in the gulf sniffing out contracts for clients.

"I don't do government contracts," he told the Post.

Instead, he says he's "just trying to lend my shoulder to the wheel, trying to coordinate some private-sector support that the government always asks for."

What a samaritan.

"The first thing he says when he sits down with a client is, 'Don't hire me if you're looking for a government contract,'" an Allbaugh spokesperson told The Hill.

And what's the next sentence? "But don't you worry. Halliburton's gonna need a few subcontractors."

Even some Republicans are beginning to appear a bit disgusted by the stench of cronyism that's beginning to rise.

"I think there are some laws that have to be changed, especially [when contracting] in emergency situations and the like," Rep. Tom Davis (R-VA), chairman of the House Committee on Government Reform, told the Hill.

Well, Rep. Davis, here are some suggestions, gleaned from the Iraq experience. Please pass them along to the leadership, will you?

First: Don't hand out any big indefinite-delivery, indefinite-quantity contracts, with those "cost-plus" payment incentives to jack up the cost. Those big contracts -- which would essentially outsource the entire reconstruction process -- also make oversight of the subcontractors (who do most of the actual work) virtually impossible. And how about another rule: no contracts for firms that don't actually do the work.

(In 2003, Davis' Virginia colleague Rep. Jim Moran (D) said that smaller companies trying to bid for reconstruction work in Iraq were having trouble making their case to get business from the Pentagon. "The indication they're getting is if they want the money they really have to go though Halliburton," Moran told the Washington Post (10/2/03))

Second: No taxpayer-funded contracts for irresponsible companies, including Offshore Tax Dodgers (that should already apply, since Homeland Security is supposed to abide by a related provision passed in 2004, but you know how many exemptions are given out during emergencies like this), recidivist corporate lawbreakers (like Halliburton), companies that pay their CEOs more than 25 times the lowest paid person in the company (a ratio recommended by Peter Drucker and many others), and companies that have outsourced a certain percentage of jobs in recent years.

Third: give preferences to local businesses whose "right to earn a living" ought to be a wee bit more of a priority than that of the administration's crony contractors, whose disastrous track record in Iraq should disqualify them from even bidding, especially if there are others who can do the job.

In fact, why are giving any tax money to these crony-contracting Republicans?

Instead, shouldn't we be giving it directly to the groups that know how to rebuild their own community, as Naomi Klein points out? Groups like the sparkplug foundation, or ACORN.

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