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Democrats urge probe in demotion of Army critic

Official objected to Halliburton contract

WASHINGTON -- Three congressional Democrats asked Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld yesterday to investigate the demotion of a senior civilian Army official who publicly criticized the awarding of a no-bid contract to Halliburton Co. for oil-related work in Iraq.

Bunnatine H. Greenhouse, who had been the Army Corps of Engineers' top procurement official since 1997, was removed effective Saturday for what the Corps of Engineers called a poor job performance. In a letter to Rumsfeld, the lawmakers said the demotion ''appears to be retaliation" for her June 27 testimony before Congress in which she detailed her objections to the award of contracts for Iraq projects.

''Retaliation against employees for providing information to Congress is illegal and entirely unacceptable," the letter said.

It was signed by Democratic Senators Byron L. Dorgan of North Dakota, and Frank Lautenberg of New Jersey, and Representative Henry Waxman, a Democrat from California. Dorgan is chairman of the Senate Democratic Policy Committee, which heard Greenhouse's testimony in June.

Greenhouse's lawyer said her demotion constitutes ''blatant discrimination" and violates an earlier agreement with the Army to suspend her demotion until a ''sufficient record" pertaining to her allegations of wrongdoing is complete.

''The failure to abide by prior commitments and the circumstances surrounding Ms. Greenhouse's removal are the hallmark of illegal retaliation," her attorney, Michael D. Kohn, wrote in the letter to Rumsfeld last Friday.

''Her removal will send a message to all concerned that if they dare stand up to corrupting influences within the Army contracting world, their careers will be destroyed," Kohn added.

Greenhouse was reassigned to a lesser job in the Corps of Engineers and removed from the Senior Executive Service, the top rank of civilian government employees.

Rumsfeld's chief spokesman, Lawrence Di Rita, referred questions about the Greenhouse matter to the Army.

Carol Sanders, a spokeswoman for the Corps of Engineers, said that as a matter of policy she could not comment on a personnel issue. She confirmed, however, that Greenhouse no longer holds the title of principal assistant responsible for contracting, which is the chief overseer of Corps of Engineer contracts.

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