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Contractor on botched Iraq construction scrutinized

Police academy plagued by faulty work, health risks

WASHINGTON -- The contractor that botched construction of a $75 million police academy in Baghdad so badly that human waste dripped from the ceilings has produced shoddy work on 13 out of 14 projects reviewed by federal auditors, the top official monitoring Iraq's reconstruction told Congress yesterday.

In a House hearing on what has gone wrong with reconstruction contracts in Iraq, Parsons Corp. quickly became the focus, taking bipartisan heat for its record of falling short on critical projects. The Pasadena, Calif., firm was supposed to build facilities at the heart of the $21 billion US-led reconstruction program, including fire stations, border forts, and healthcare centers. But inspectors have found a litany of flaws in the firm's work. The one project reviewed by auditors that was being constructed correctly, a prison, was taken away from Parsons before its completion because of escalating costs.

In a report released yesterday, inspectors found that the Baghdad Police College posed a health risk after feces and urine leaked through the ceilings of barracks. The facility, part of which will need to be demolished, also featured floors that heaved inches off the ground and a room where water dripped so heavily that it was known as ``the rain forest."

The academy was intended as a showcase for US efforts to train Iraqi recruits who eventually are expected to take control of the nation's security from the US military. But lawmakers said yesterday that they feared it will become a symbol of a different sort.

``This is the lens through which Iraqis will now see America," said Representative Henry Waxman, Democrat of California. ``Incompetence. Profiteering. Arrogance. And human waste oozing out of ceilings as a result."

Stuart W. Bowen Jr., special inspector general for Iraq reconstruction, said the project failed in part because Parsons had fallen down in its responsibility to manage the work.

``It boils down to a lack of oversight," Bowen said. His office will go back in the coming months to review all of Parsons' work in Iraq, which totals about $1 billion.

Parsons Senior vice president Earnest O. Robbins II acknowledged the police academy construction was unacceptable, but told congressmen that poor work by Iraqi subcontractors, tight deadlines, and a deteriorating security situation were to blame.

``We awarded over 1,700 subcontracts to Iraqi firms, and at the peak of construction we had over 11,000 Iraqis employed," Robbins said. ``Even the day-to-day oversight of those Iraqi subcontractors was, as a result of cost and security reasons, conducted almost entirely by Iraqis hired and trained by Parsons."

Robbins said the company consistently faced ``a shortage of capable Iraqi managers and skilled craftsmen."

Contractors in Iraq have been a frequent target of Democratic critics in the 3 1/2 years since the US invasion, with Texas oil services giant Halliburton Co. becoming the most prominent example of what many Democrats consider war profiteering. Until now, the work of Parsons -- an employee-owned engineering and construction firm that had $3 billion in revenue last year -- had not attracted much attention. But Parsons came under fire from Republicans and Democrats alike yesterday.

``On both sides of the aisle, we think this is outrageous," said Representive Gil Gutknecht, Republican of Minnesota.

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