San Marcos City Councilmembers Jude Prather, left, and Chris Jones, right.
By SEAN BATURA
In September, the San Marcos City Council adopted a set of ethical criteria for the awarding of contracts. Now, Councilmembers Chris Jones and Jude Prather say they want to change the policy so it applies to KBR and others to whom the policy does not apply.
Prather said he spent 95 percent of his tour of duty as a U.S. soldier in Iraq escorting KBR trucks. Prather served in the 100th Battalion 442nd Infantry Regiment for nine months in Iraq and Kuwait.
“The drivers they (KBR) hired were from every corner of the world,” said Prather, who returned from his second tour of duty in August 2009. “And some of them wouldn’t even know how to drive a stick shift. They would just be thrown straight in the mix … A lot of them were unqualified to drive, and it would compromise safety during the mission. Having a breakdown on an Iraqi highway from an unqualified driver is about the worst place to be broke down.”
Prather said the only soldier in his unit to die in Iraq during his tour was named Casey Hill, a gunner whose Humvee was struck by a KBR truck.
“He was on his last mission and a KBR truck hit him,” Prather said. “He was a gunner. Killed him instantly. He was a good guy, too.”
Prather said he and other troops were angered at what they saw as tax dollars being wasted on idle KBR employees and empty trucks. Prather said the average convoy would consist of 40 trucks, with five to 10 of them sometimes being empty. Prather said it was not uncommon to see a dozen or so KBR employees cleaning one bathroom stall.
“Every time I go to Rio Vista Falls and enjoy how beautiful it is, it’s always in the back of my mind that a war profiteer company built this,” Prather said “KBR is the best at what they do, they really are. But in the end, I don’t know.”
Prather said he “most definitely” plans on supporting an update to the ethics policy passed in September.
The current policy states that no contract for construction or services shall be awarded to any entity (including subsidiaries) that was convicted of a criminal offense committed in Hays County within the last three years. The policy also specifies nine “reportable conditions” that may affect the city council’s decision to hire the entity. Some of the conditions include citations for safety violations, violation of anti-lobbying provisions in a city procurement process, pending investigation for certain criminal offenses alleged to have been committed in Hays County, and other pending or final claims of fraud, misrepresentation, or conversion.
Former KBR CEO Albert Stanley pleaded guilty in September 2009 to bribing Nigerian officials for contracts worth more than $6 billion. KBR agreed to pay the U.S. government $402 million, the “largest fine ever in a Foreign Corrupt Practices Act prosecution,” according to a U.S. Department of Justice press release. KBR and former parent company Halliburton jointly agreed to pay $177 million in disgorgement of profits relating to the bribery scheme.
In circumstances unrelated to the Nigerian bribery case, seven KBR employees working in Iraq and Afghanistan have been convicted since 2005 of offenses including major fraud, money laundering, fraud conspiracy and breaking anti-kickback laws.
“From my perspective, I would rather have been able to hold them (KBR) accountable for what they’ve done to some of our troops and some of the other things that have happened, and have an ethics policy that is that comprehensive,” Jones said. “But when you’re working with other councilmembers, you come to a consensus, and that is how we could get the first leg of the policy out. My goal is to, hopefully, redraft and hopefully fix the policy so that it does give us the ability to hold those folks accountable.”
Prather, elected in November after the city council approved the ethics policy, was one of a group of veterans and others who in April 2009 succeeded in convincing Hays County commissioners to drop KBR as their choice for an engineering design services contract worth more than $600,000.
“The men I serve with, along with myself, strongly believe that we should never give KBR another dime of our taxpayer’s money,” wrote Prather to commissioners from Iraq.
Soon afterwards, county commissioners discussed adopting an ethics policy for the award of contracts. Among other provisions, the proposed county policy, never adopted, would have barred it from doing business with entities involved in convictions for felonies or crimes “of moral turpitude” within the last five years. The restrictions would have applied to any company, its parent company, its subsidiaries, certain of its subcontractors, and “key personnel.”
KBR has provided engineering services for city projects such as the Wonder World Extension, Rio Vista Falls project, and the McCarty Lane project.
“I feel like a strong portion of our constituency is not happy with us doing business with KBR,” Jones said. “But, you know, it wasn’t a majority of my constituency that felt that way. The majority of my constituency, I think, feels like we need to do business with whomever can get the job done at an affordable rate to save taxpayer dollars. I’m okay with that. However, with the competitive market we have right now, we ought to be able to do both. Do business with somebody who can get the job done in a time frame that’s reasonable … and affordable at a rate that’s in the best interest of the taxpayers, as well as hold themselves to a higher ethical standard.”
Jones said KBR performed especially well on the Rio Vista Falls project and generally does good work for the city.
“They’re very efficient, they usually get it done quick,” Jones said. “That’s something that I value, because I really don’t like inconveniencing our citizens as far as them waiting on projects to be completed and that impacting their transportation. But I think there’s a larger issue with KBR that in some fashion the council needs to figure out how we’re going to address it — if we choose to.”
KBR Media Relations Director Heather L. Browne responded last year to criticisms leveled at her company by Prather and other veterans who had urged commissioners not to hire the firm. Browne said KBR is proud of the work it performs in Iraq.
Browne said KBR employees in Iraq and Afghanistan “perform their work at great sacrifice to themselves and their families,” and she said KBR is a company committed to doing business with integrity. Browne said the U.S. Army remains satisfied with KBR’s work.
“KBR stands by and is proud of the work it has provided the city of San Marcos and we look forward to lending our expertise on future projects when called upon,” Browne said last week.Email | Print