The latest criminal investigation is so hush-hush, no details are available as to possible charges, or even who or what exactly is the object of the investigation.
That said, there's enough scandal and trouble associated with the 104-acre, $592M complex to discuss. Let's do that.
Last May's mortar attack that damaged the so-called explosion-proof walls resulted in Ryan C. Crocker, US Ambassador to Iraq, banning James L. Golden, managing Director of the State Department's Overseas Buildings Operations (OBO) bureau and project overseer, from Iraq after he (Golden) altered the scene and disobeyed State Department orders involving the death of at least one worker. In short, he's suspected of destroying evidence in the case.
Yet, Golden continues to oversee the project; to be the liaison with the contractor, Kuwait-based First Kuwaiti General Trading and Contracting Co.; and to supervise other projects for the [OBO]. The behind schedule project, which has been plagued with construction and life safety issues, is now forecast to require another $144M to complete sometime next year instead of the agreed upon June 2007 date long past.
About that contractor, First Kuwait. . .it only got the job because the State Department had received only one lawful bid to build the embassy complex from J.A. Jones International of Charlotte, N.C. That bid was rejected
because it failed to meet the original completion deadline of June 2007, was more than twice the estimated cost and would have required a so-called "cost plus" contract
So, the State Department waived the law that requires open and competitive bidding.
It awarded a sole-source contract for the unclassified portions of the new embassy complex to. . .First Kuwaiti General Trading & Contracting Co.
because it "offered a fixed-price contract, in which cost overruns aren't passed on to the government," said Patrick Kennedy, the State Department's director of management policy.
OBO and its director, retired Army Maj. Gen. Charles Williams (more about him later), who signed the waiver that allowed First Kuwaiti to win the contract, were in a hurry to get the project underway.
So how has First Kuwait done? Well, there's the performance questions following the mortar attack; the blunders involving the guards' base (which still isn't open) when the kitchen appliances didn't work, workers were shocked, and the smell of burning wiring filled the facility; fuel leaks; noxious formaldehyde vapors in the sleeping trailers.
The trailer manufacturer, a Saudi company called Red Sea Housing Services Co., confirmed to the embassy it had used the toxic chemical in preparing the housing. Red Sea told the embassy to keep the windows open and use charcoal in the rooms to absorb the odor, but "the fumes are still prevalent. . .
A $500,000 project to install a fire-suppression system appeared to be proceeding without proper supervision.
At a May 16 meeting, officials showed photos indicating fire hazards in the dining hall's wiring that were so serious that the few guards who had moved into the base's new residential housing were sent back to Camp Jackson. The problems with the fire suppression system were "serious" — joints in underground water mains supplying the sprinklers leaked when they were tested.
On May 24, OBO declared that the wiring problem had been fixed, but KBR ( a Texas-based company that runs many facilities in Iraq) conducted an inspection a day later and said the problems remained. KBR found that the reworked wiring "is still substandard," the cable said. The embassy also said that it believes it has discovered counterfeit wiring, labeled as 10mm when it was actually 6mm.
On May 25, a KBR hazardous-materials expert discovered that all 10 generators had developed leaks. The fuel tanks were installed without corrosion protection or leak detectors, and fuel had begun to saturate the soil around the tanks. . .Teflon tape designed for water pipes had been used on the fuel tanks, and that such tape "will dissolve on contact with diesel fuel."
Back in July, First Kuwait's labor practices were already under investigation by the US Justice Department
amid allegations that foreign employees were brought into Iraq under false pretenses - such as being told that they were to work in Dubai - and then forbidden to leave because the company had confiscated their passports.
Columbia, Md.-based Cosmopolitan Inc., which was awarded the lead contract to build the embassy's classified spaces, where intelligence officers and others work, meet and store information, was kicked off the job for alleged non-performance. It was replaced by Kaseman Corp. of Chantilly, Va.
More about Director Williams. The State Department declined to make him available for interview to the House Foreign Affairs Committee, who sought reassurances reagarding the Baghdad embassy.
Current and former U.S. officials argue that many of the problems are symptomatic of the approach pursued by Williams, who they say is determined to deliver a set number of new embassies each year on time and within budget, whatever the consequences.
Williams, who was chosen for his post in March 2001 by his friend, then-Secretary of State Colin Powell, runs the overseas buildings operation like a virtual fiefdom, according to numerous current and former officials who refused to discuss personnel matters on the record.
He and his aides refused to let U.S. diplomats and congressional staffers onto the new embassy compound in Iraq, according to congressional testimony in July and a former senior official with first-hand knowledge.
The chairman of the House Oversight Committee, Representative Waxman is conducting another investigation.
In a letter to State Department Inspector General Howard Krongard last month, Waxman said that former and current staff members in Krongard's office told the committee that he'd refused to help investigate alleged wrongdoing by First Kuwaiti and an unnamed top State Department official.
"The allegations from the Justice Department implicate a major contractor in 'contract fraud' and a senior State Department official in 'public . . . corruption," Waxman wrote.
If that's not enough. . .
U.S. Congressmen are lobbying against signing a deal with Lebanese contractor Wadih Abbsy to build the new U.S. Embassy compound in the Saudi capital of Riyadh, accusing him of financially backing Free Patriotic Movement leader Michel Aoun, a Kuwaiti newspaper reported Sunday. Ya Libnan
Aoun has been described openly in the halls of Congress as "a licker of Syria's boots," Rep. Gary Ackerman's phrase.