Sen. Byron Dorgan: Contractor Failures In Iraq Have Cost Lives

[Please welcome Sen. Byron Dorgan to FDL to discuss contractor corruption, fraud and waste. As with all guest chats, please stay on topic and be polite — please take off-topic discussions to the prior thread. Thanks! — CHS]

Since December 2003, the Democratic Policy Committee (DPC), which I chair, has held seventeen oversight hearings to examine waste, fraud, and corruption in Iraq.

Last Friday, I held a hearing to investigate contractor KBR’s tragic failure to correct faulty electrical work at U.S. military installations in Iraq, even after the United States Army issued a bulletin stating that improper wiring by contractors had resulted in the electrocution deaths of several soldiers. Earlier last week, the American commander in Iraq, General David Petraeus, stated that at least thirteen Americans had been electrocuted in Iraq since the war began, and that many more soldiers have received painful shocks.

One of the thirteen Americans who died by electrocution in Iraq, Staff Sgt. Ryan Maseth, a decorated Army Ranger and Green Beret, was electrocuted while he was showering. Cheryl Harris, Staff Sgt. Maseth’s mother, testified that her son’s death was the result of KBR’s “failure to correct a known electrical hazard in a building replete with electrical hazards.” She discovered that KBR knew about this hazard in her son’s building eleven months before his death.

The hearing also featured the testimony of two whistleblowers who worked as electricians in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Debbie Crawford, a licensed electrician with 30 years of experience, testified (PDF) that she saw shoddy, dangerous, electrical work in Iraq. When she told her foreman about it, he said "forget about it, close the door, stop looking at it.” Ms. Crawford also testified that KBR sub-contracted out much of its electrical work to third country national and local national workers who, Ms. Crawford said, "were not familiar or skilled in U.S. quality standards, U.S. safety standards and installation techniques, or U.S. codes." Jefferey Bliss, a former Navy electrician who worked for KBR in Afghanistan, also testified that "the carelessness and disregard for quality work at KBR was pervasive" and that he was “surprised to discover how many KBR electricians did not have the right experience and training."

Over the last five years, our country has asked tens of thousands of young men and women in uniform to go into harm’s way in Iraq and Afghanistan. While these soldiers have answered the call to serve our country on the battlefield, they never expected that their lives might be endangered when taking a shower. There have been massive failures by contractors, which combined with a lack of oversight by the Pentagon, have presented unexpected and unnecessary hazards to our troops.

(YouTube — Sen. Dorgan questioning Cheryl Harris at the DPC hearing last Friday.)

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