There's no shortage of problems in constructing the new, 21-building U.S. Embassy in Baghdad. For starters, the lead contractor on the project, First Kuwaiti General Trade and Contracting, is under investigation by the Justice Department for potential use of coerced labor
. (A State Department Inspector-General's report
found no evidence of such wrongdoing (pdf).) If true, then coerced labor hardly translates into quality performance. Today's Washington Post reports
that First Kuwaiti's construction of a facility to house embassy guards -- private contractors themselves -- is pretty shoddy, with melted wiring, emission of toxic fumes within
the building and leaking fuel. An opaque organizational structure from First Kuwaiti has hindered embassy officials' ability to bring their concerns to a sole, responsible manager. And if that wasn't enough, the State Department's Overseas Building Operations is hitting back at allegations against First Kuwaiti, claiming that they're a fig leaf for KBR to horn in on First Kuwaiti's $592 million contract.
To sort out this whole mess, Rep. Henry Waxman (D-CA) announced today that the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform will hold a hearing on the "waste, fraud and abuse" in the embassy-construction project on July 26. The so-called "NEC" -- New Embassy Compound in bureaucrat-ese -- is slated to be finished by September, and it looks to be a swank place: the Times of London
that it will include "what is rumoured to be the biggest swimming pool in Iraq, a state-of-the-art gymnasium, a cinema, restaurants offering delicacies from favourite US food chains, tennis courts and a swish American Club for evening functions." That level of comfort doesn't come cheap -- raising many questions about First Kuwaiti, which, according to CorpWatch
, wasn't the low bidder on the embassy contract. We'll see if Waxman's hearing can come up with any answers.(Thanks to reader TZ.)