Need a lesson on how to make money in a war zone?
Try studying defense contractor KBR, a former unit of Dick Cheney's Halliburton. The engineering logistics company -- whose conflict zone days date to the Vietnam War -- won a contract worth $4.6 million to repair military vehicles at a base outside Baghdad. For the job, they employed 144 mechanics.
How many hours do you think they worked?
Even KBR's internal figures tell a shocking story of military contract waste. The company says that of the workers they had, just 6.6 percent were being used at any given time, on average. KBR said that "worker utilization" rates ranged from a meager 3.97 percent in April 2009 to 9.65 percent in September 2008.
This means that, of the more than 200,000 hours they billed for, fewer than 15,000 hours were actually used.
The Pentagon Inspector's report reveals even poorer numbers. Mother Jones' Adam Weinstein reports that, "In September 2008, for example, KBR had 144 maintenance employees at Balad, available to work 16,200 hours. Their actual 'utilization rate' was a paltry 0.63 percentÃ¢â‚¬â€which means that each of the 144 KBR employees averaged about 43 minutes of work for the entire month."
How did such a large bunch of thumb-twiddling mechanics go unnoticed? The Pentagon investigators found that the Army had no system in place to police how much work its contractors were actually doing. Plus, the unit in charge of KBR's operation at Balad reported that the contractor wouldn't reveal how many mechanics it employed there "because it believed the information was proprietary." The investigators (who eventually got the KBR data) note that as of last August, the number of KBR mechanics at Balad has since dropped to 75, but they conclude diplomatically that "opportunities for additional reductions of tactical vehicle field maintenance services at [Balad] may exist, which may provide additional cost savings to DOD." In other words, the Army should consider sending even more contractors home.
Halliburton spun off KBR in 2007, after playing home to KBR for 44 years. (This contract was awarded after the spinoff.)
The Pentagon Inspector General's report is available here in PDF form.
KBR is facing civil action over its other activities in Iraq. A series of class-action lawsuits allege that the company exposed 100,000 people, including US troops, to cancer-causing toxins by burning waste in open-air pits in Iraq.
At least 22 separate lawsuits claiming KBR poisoned American soldiers in Iraq have been combined into a single massive lawsuit that says KBR, which until not long ago was a subsidiary of Halliburton, sought to save money by disposing of toxic waste and incinerating numerous potentially harmful substances in open-air "burn pits."
According to one of the lawsuits (PDF), filed in a federal court in Nashville, KBR burned "tires, lithium batteries ... biohazard materials (including human corpses), medical supplies (including those used during smallpox inoculations), paints, solvents, asbestos insulation, items containing pesticides, polyvinyl chloride pipes, animal carcasses, dangerous chemicals, and hundreds of thousands of plastic water bottles."
With earlier reporting by Daniel Tencer.