September 12, 2004

Reconstruction contracts: what are they good for?

Back in college, before Mother Jones had wrung out my pro-corporate biases, I remember defending the no-bid contracts in Iraq on the grounds that, well, some of these bigger companies know what they're doing and ought to be shoved into action as quickly as possible. That's certainly not the whole story -- many of those bigger reconstruction companies have ginned up a lot of ill-will in Iraq by shunning local workers and wasting money. Still, though, no-bids have some built-in advantages, and the LA Times gets at a few of them in this report on the ever-elusive quest to turn on Iraq's electricity:

A month after the celebration, Congress passed an $18.4-billion aid package for Iraq. The largest chunk was dedicated to restoring electricity.

The money, though, came with a caveat: All work had to be thrown open to competition among private companies or Congress would have to be informed.

Both Republican and Democrats hailed the stipulation as a way to control Iraq's ballooning costs. But the process imposed peacetime contracting rules amid a rapidly changing dynamic of conflict.

Through last fall and this spring, reconstruction officials struggled to bid out thousands of projects, including power plants, dams and police equipment. Because of the volume of contracts and the backlog, deadlines were pushed back from November to January to February.

One would hope that the sheer volume of fuck-ups in Iraq would allow scholars to write a definitive field-manual on reconstruction contracts. At the very least, we should come out of Iraq knowing a good deal more about how and how not to go about state-building. That hardly justifies the costs, etc., but it's something.

-- Brad Plumer 8:13 PM || ||