San Marcos Mercury | Local News from San Marcos and Hays County, Texas

March 25th, 2009
County delays KBR pact after vets protest

KBR Director of Government Relations Marit Babin addressed the Hays County Commissioners Court. Photos by Sean Batura.

News Reporter

A routine execution of a professional services contract turned into a political statement at the Hays County Commissioners Court Tuesday morning, where the court wound up taking no action on an item to approve an engineering contract for KBR.

Two combat veterans of the war in Iraq testified against giving the FM 110 engineering services contract to KBR, Inc. Rather than execute the contract, the court decided to give sponsoring Precinct 1 Commissioner Debbie Ingalsbe (D-San Marcos) time to decide if she wants to again propose giving the contract to KBR.

KBR, a Houston-based engineering, procurement and construction firm, has been in the news in recent months for charges ranging from bribery of foreign government officials to endangering their own employees and U.S. troops serving in Iraq. Pending litigation against KBR involves allegations including human trafficking, purposely sending unarmed employees into a dangerous combat zone (the “Good Friday Massacre”), exposing employees and national guardsmen to carcinogenic sodium dichromate and covering up evidence of rapes of its employees.

“I personally watched KBR ship empty trucks around Iraq,” Hays County resident Bryan Hannah told the court. Hannah served in Baghdad from 2006 to 2008.

“I put my life on the line to escort those empty trucks and make a profit for this company,” Hannah said.

KBR pleaded guilty in February to bribing Nigerian officials loyal to General Sani Abacha, whose government controversially put nine human rights activists to death in 1995. Former KBR CEO Albert Stanley was involved in the bribery scheme, which garnered KBR contracts worth more than $6 billion. Stanley pleaded guilty in September to violating the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA).

On March 5, two citizens of the United Kingdom were each charged with one count of conspiracy to violate the FCPA and 10 counts of violating the FCPA. KBR agreed to pay the U.S. government $402 million, the “largest fine ever in (an FCPA) prosecution,” according to the U.S. Department of Justice. KBR and its former parent company Halliburton jointly agreed to pay $177 million in disgorgement of profits relating to the bribery scheme. Eight KBR employees working in Iraq and Afghanistan were convicted of offenses including fraud, money laundering, fraud conspiracy, bribery, and breaking anti-kickback laws.

KBR is under investigation by the Army Criminal Investigation Command in the electrocution death of Staff Sgt. Ryan Maseth, who died when an electrical current coursed through pipes into his shower water in the Radwaniyah Palace Complex in Baghdad. Since 2003, there have been at least 18 electrocutions in Iraq. No charges have been filed against any company or individual in connection with the deaths.

Gregory Foster, who served in Kuwait and Baghdad for a year, said commissioners should do more research on companies they are thinking of hiring.

“My father once told me, ‘Son, your dollar votes; if you don’t like the way a company does business, then don’t do business with them,'” Foster said. “I believe I speak for many of us here in Hays County when I say, ‘We don’t like the way KBR does business. We don’t want to give them any more of our money.’ I would like to ask the court to postpone making a decision on this contract.”

KBR sent its Director of Government Relations, Marit Babin, to the Tuesday meeting to address the concerns of residents and commissioners.

“I’d like to remind you all that we are a contractor,” Babin said. “I understand that — I see (people) with buttons here, anti-war and those sorts of things. We have nothing to do with that. We find a contract and we’re doing a job that the military asked us to do. We’re very proud of the job that we’re doing and we’re honored to support the troops. We provide them with a variety of services: food, shelter … laundry services, many of the comforts of home so that they can pass the challenges and the dangerous mission that they’re there to perform.”

Babin called Stanley “an unfortunate chapter of our past history,” and said he was fired immediately after allegations against him were substantiated.

“There is absolutely no one now in the company who was involved in any way in that incident,” Babin said. “And we have taken substantial measures to make sure that nothing like that will ever happen. KBR is a stand-alone company now and has been for two years, and we have a stringent code of ethics that all of our employees and officers adhere to.”

Foster read a letter from Jude Prather, a failed 2007 San Marcos City Council candidate now serving in Iraq. Prather recently announced his intention to run for an unspecified seat in the 2009 city council race. Prather’s letter is as follows:

“To: the Citizens of Hays County and our esteemed members of the Hays County Court

From: Specialist Jude Prather of the 100th Battalion 442nd Infantry Regiment

I write to you today (not only) as an infantryman serving in Operation Iraqi Freedom, but also as a concerned citizen of Hays County. As my fellow veteran brothers and sisters have probably already addressed the long and appalling list of what KBR has done in the name of greed, I shall not waste any time in listing the long, awful laundry list of acts this company has done while over here in Operation Iraqi Freedom. But I can tell you, over here my job is to escort KBR supply trucks from supply centers in Kuwait to destinations throughout Iraq. In doing so, we live in KBR tents, eat in KBR chow halls, shower in KBR trailers (in which we pray we don’t end up being electrocuted to death like many other soldiers), and see that KBR and other contractors are more numerous that soldiers. When I posed the question to my convoy escort team, ‘Would you give KBR a contract to build a road for your city or county?’ it was a unanimous response, more colorful than would be appropriate to repeat in the court. But the men I serve with, along with myself, strongly believe that we should never give KBR another dime of our taxpayer’s money. Thank you and God Bless.”

Said Hays County Judge Liz Sumter (D-Wimberley), “I was wondering why — I think Dannenbaum (Engineering) originally had the design contract for FM 110, right? And that is, I think, the only contractor we haven’t put back to work from those that we stopped a couple years ago … I guess the question I have is why are we not moving forward with Dannenbaum? I mean, since they originally had the contract with the county, why are we not moving forward with them?”

Ingalsbe replied that KBR was already working on the City of San Marcos’ portion of the McCarty Lane project near the FM 110 project.

“We felt it would be a smooth transition,” Inbalsbe said. “(Hays County Engineer) Jerry Borcherding, Mike Weaver (of Prime Strategies) and I reviewed proposals and felt confident, and a decision was made to move prior to knowledge of all of this. They had good references. As I said earlier, I did not look further. I did what I believed is our normal procedure to look at engineering firms. And I think we all felt very confident in choosing KBR. But I will say when I was interviewed (by in February) and learned of this, it did concern me, and as I hear people speak today, it is concerning.”

Ingalsbe warned that the FM 110 project, part of the countywide $207 million road bond package passed by voters in November, had already been delayed and should not be postponed much longer.

“Yet, I do feel that I’d like at least a week to speak with legal counsel and our engineers and discuss just a little further the contract and maybe the responsibilities that we have,” Ingalsbe said. “I do appreciate the men and women who serve our country, and I really appreciate you all being here and sharing those concerns with us.”

Hays County Precinct 2 Commissioner Jeff Barton (D-Kyle) acknowledged Babin’s warning to commissioners to refrain from believing everything published about KBR.

“But it is disturbing,” said Barton. “Some of the history is disturbing. Allegations from Hays County residents who served overseas are disturbing enough (that) I think, Commissioner (Ingalsbe), just that you’re wise just to take that little extra time to make sure we understand the situation and make sure that this is our right partner. I have a lot of trust in our staff, I have a lot of trust in your judgment in the court. I will feel comfortable with what you call. I appreciate the diligence you did in bringing forward an engineering company. I also appreciate your larger vision in now wanting to make sure that it is the right overall company.”

Hays County Precinct 3 Commissioner Will Conley (R-San Marcos) said not many companies in the world have the ability to do the kind of work KBR does, and praised the philanthropy of the Browns, founding members of the company.

“I don’t know the details on any of this,” Conley said. “I’m not in the U.S. military, and I’m certainly not up to speed with everything associated with … KBR and Halliburton. But, I’m just trying to put this in perspective. To the men who served our country, thank you for being here today. Y’all live here in Hay County, correct? … Thank you for your service.”

Hays County Precinct 4 Commissioner Karen Ford (D-Dripping Springs) noted that the county gets “over a hundred responses” to formal requests for proposals of the type KBR and other companies responded to.

“I do think that the fact that (the veterans) had some recent experience with KBR in the Iraq setting was pretty compelling for me,” Ford said. “And I guess my way of thinking is, this is a very volatile issue, and the facts are not going to be easily borne out, and nor do I think that’s our role, to go do fact-finding either way to validate one (view) or validate the other. To my way of thinking, if those are young citizens of Hays County who have been over defending our country and have a strong feeling of and experience about how we spend our tax dollars and who we spend our tax dollars with, and there is a plethora of companies out there who are maybe even more local, and just as capable of doing work in Hays County, then I might defer to that.”

KBR Director of Corporate Communications Heather Browne said her company understands the need for its prospective customers to delve into the firm’s history and current business dealings.

“But for us, we stand by the work that we do in Iraq,” Browne said. “We have a lot of very dedicated employees in Iraq that are doing work at great sacrifice not only to themselves but to their families, that’s done in a very challenging and unpredictable environment. And while we certainly recognize the level of oversight and in some instances, scrutiny that we garner because of our work in Iraq, we consistently have been rated good to excellent in award fee board score — which is what the Army basically rates you because of your work — by the Army, which continues to let us know that we are doing a good job by our customer.”

For more on this story, see this story.

Iraq War veteran Bryan Hannah told Hays County commissioners that he put his life on the line for KBR.

Iraq War veteran Gregory Foster said Hays County taxpayers shouldn’t give money to KBR.

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0 thoughts on “County delays KBR pact after vets protest

  1. If it wasn’t KBR, say it was another local contractor, and they had just been convicted and fined for bribery and were under investigation for negligent homicide because of their shoddy work, for delivery contaminated water to your children, for providing expired and inedible food to your schools, for human trafficking, for fraudulently over charging the last client, for demanding to be paid to redo work that they had already been paid for…. WOULD YOU HIRE THEM???

    Listen to your soldiers. Listen to all the 18 Senate DPC Hearings about KBR’s waste, fraud and abuse. The House Oversight and Government Reform Hearings.

    My goodness….I was always told, “If it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck, it’s probably a damn duck!”

    Ms Sparky

  2. Question, did not the San Marcos city council know about KBR before awarding them the McCarty contract? My guess is that they did and a legal investigation should be launched immeadaitely!!! Does anyone know if the Browns mentioned in the article are the same ones aka Brown and Root from Vietnam days?

  3. Yes. They are.
    The Browns are the same ones of Brown and Root – George and Herman Brown and a brother-in-law, Dan Root. And they are the same ones that date back from LBJ’s days in Congress, i.e. LBJ was instrumental in getting them the Mansfield Dam contract. Funded with federal money through the Bureau of Reclamation, they had to get presidential dispensation to build on non-federal land. LBJ helped with that. Brown contributed heavily to LBJ throughout his political career. They also received some real plums in defense contracts, including the Corpus Christi naval base. While they were very experienced road builders, they had never constructed a dam, or a naval base before.

    They started out as road contractors in the late 1910s. And have a long history of building roads. Brown and Root merged with Halliburton in 1962. Then in 1998, it became KBR (another merger), and continued as the construction subsidiary of Halliburton. In 2007, it was spun off of Halliburton as an independent company.

    It’s odd that a company that got its start by contributing to a Democrat should wind-up in the Republican column. As everyone should know by now, Halliburton is the company that Cheney headed during his short respite from politics. He never sold his interests in the company. No one seemed to mind during the 8 years of Bush’s Administration. Odd that people are now getting so upset. Particularly since KBR is once again an independent company.

    Should we file this one under the heading of “better late than never?”

  4. No problem. Sorry I can’t answer your question on whether the SM City Council knew about KBR before awarding them the contract. I can’t read minds. But I do think that a city the size of SM should have the professional staff in place to do this kind of research – and it is their responsibility to inform the Council so they don’t get caught up in these types of controversies. Halliburton and KBR have been so much in the news over the last 9 years though that only an ostrich would have missed the potential for this kind of public outrage.

    But then again, I have to admit, these guys have a really great reputation for building roads. And if this contract is cancelled, good people will be affected. But hey, maybe the sins of the father should….

    I don’t have an answer for this one. I can’t see things in black and white. It’s a tough call, and I’m glad I’m not the one who has to make it. But IF I absolutely had to, I would probably cancel. But only with a very heavy heart – and a lot more deliberation and research. This is a tough one that probably could have been avoided. But keep in mind, it’s always easier to criticize a decision looking back over your shoulder than it is to put forth the effort to make a really sound decision in the first place. That’s why I’m not a politician.

  5. Doesn’t the county and all government agencies have a legal duty to award a contract to the lowest responsible bidder due to state law? If that was KBR in this case then they may face legal action if they don’t. What if we started rejecting other contract bids because we didn’t like other companies or their employees? Just thinking out loud.

  6. Does state law approve of American soldiers being electrocuted due to KBR’s stupidity! They are currently being sued by the parents of the solider who died at the hands of KBR, might that not effect KBR’s relationship with the county? The lowest bidder should be reputable other wise how low will we be willing to go?

  7. I do not think that many people are aware of the KBR wrongdoing. It would seem that this would be a good topic for the television news magazines.

  8. Ms Sparky on March 25, 2009 7:09 pm
    If it wasn’t KBR, say it was another local contractor, and they had just been convicted and fined for bribery and were under investigation for negligent homicide because of their shoddy work, for delivery contaminated water to your children, for providing expired and inedible food to your schools, for human trafficking, for fraudulently over charging the last client, for demanding to be paid to redo work that they had already been paid for…. WOULD YOU HIRE THEM???

    Listen to your soldiers. Listen to all the 18 Senate DPC Hearings about KBR’s waste, fraud and abuse. The House Oversight and Government Reform Hearings.

    My goodness….I was always told, “If it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck, it’s probably a damn duck!”

    Ms Sparky

    WOULD WE?!

  9. Where does professional ethics way in? That has to have some influence in the decision process.

    And, low bid is one thing. Is it really a low bid? Or is it a low bid to get the contract and then come up with nit picky reasons to charge more.

    I think giving KBR this contract would be a slap in the face to every soldier who died of electrocution. Or who are dying of cancer. Who unknowingly drank their contaminated water. Who lost their lives or were injured protecting empty trucks.

    Yes-KBR has a great reputation for building roads. But should we ignore everything else they are accused of? I think our first obligation is what’s best for the country. Not whats best for KBR.

    KBR has made their own bed. But we do not have to lie in it.

  10. Again, not sure about the law, but there are legal questions that must be answered. You might hate KBR and they may be SOB’s but there may not be any choice in the matter. Change the law first but be careful what you wish for. Plus, being sued does not mean you are guilty.

  11. Sterling: You are reducing an intelligent dialogue on state laws regarding bidding process to the ridiculous. When did you stop beating YOUR wife? It does not add to the discussion. Jackson: Is it the duty of local elected officials to decide issues pending in a court of law? Again, I despise KBR and what they are accused of, Cheney and the rest of that nasty lot, but the lowest responsible bid is based on price, experience, and capability to perform by STATE LAW, I think!

  12. Dan I believe you are wrong on this one. What is not funny is that we are pointing out democrats and republicans as if one of the two, (republicans) asked for these people to die. It is a devestating fact. I thank you for the history on KBR. I am embarrassed a bit that some didn’t know the huge controversy that goes along with KBR. Shouldn’t the democrats have known this?? It was on National televisison as well as in the big time magazines and well discussed via the internet. Maybe we shouldnt be so one sided on what we listen too. Their are so many point and ways to make of this situation. By saying that I do not believe any company in this nation would want to intentionally kill someone.

  13. Dan, would you hire AIG to do your business in light of their past history even if they were the lowest bidder?

  14. The KBR contract is a professional services contract for engineering services. It is based on professional qualifications, and not on low bid. The company is offering engineering services to design the highway, not contracting to actually build the road.

    State law prohibits the hiring of professionals (engineers, architects, etc.) on the basis of low bid. You have to consider their overall professional qualifications. Therefore, the county can consider the current lawsuits against KBR and the Federal fines against the company in their deliberations on whether to hire the company or not. At least – that is Ms. Knight’s opinion. I am not an attorney. I did take a look at the contract on the County’s website though to confirm that it was a professional services proposal.

  15. Imagine, you may be correct that I am wrong. It seems the contract of this discussion is for engineering services and not construction services. According to the AG’s website, engineering services are not subject to competitive bidding, so there would be no requirements to choose the lowest bid. If KBR was the lowest bid for construction I don’t believe they could be rejected based on what I have read from the AG. The next question would then be should KBR be rejected from providing engineering services for the other reasons stated which I believe may be warranted. Other considerations are county taxpayer dollars and delays in the project which also cost money.

  16. I agree. Except that engineering firms are really hungry right now (as are architectural firms – they are the first to feel the affects of a recession). I doubt it would take much to find another firm. In fact, I recall (albeit somewhat hazily) that another firm had also actually worked on that road. They could come up to speed very quickly. KBR only became involved when the City of San Marcos took it over. I don’t think there would be much of a delay as I believe the County has a list of engineering firms from which to draw. Moreover, I don’t think KBR exactly works for cheap. So we might even wind-up saving money.

  17. Oh – and kudos for checking the AGs website! I just hate those state websites. It takes me forever to find anything on them. I’m impressed!

  18. Ms. Knight, thanks for the clarification! I thought I read that KBR had mega experience “building roads.” You are a wellspring of information.

  19. We’re all aware of KBR’s history, if you’re not then it’s not too difficult to conduct quick research and get up to speed. Conley apparently isn’t interested in doing that research, as he said he’s not up to date on the matter. It’s not difficult and it is expected given the level of concern from Hays County citizens and the level of concern from those who have served overseas and have first hand experience with KBR. This is a no-brainer. Find another firm to design the project. I hope Commissioner Ingalsbe is intelligent enough to consider other options given KBR’s history and current problems.

  20. There is a CNN report about KBR that just came out….. less than an hour ago. I can’t put links on here. But if you click on Ms Sparky it should take you my home page. It’s my last post. It’s pretty damning.

    I think there will be a video report on Lou Dobbs tomorrow night, Friday the 27th.

  21. I won’t wine because I’m out of swiss cheese! Will Conley according to the grape vine swore he knew what was going on, now I only wonder!

  22. John, I take personal offense to your mitigated gall questioning Commissioner Ingalsbe’s intelligence! I have known Ms. Ingalesbe for close to two decades and if you spend 15 minutes in her company, you would not be questioning her integrity. Good Day Sir!

  23. Well excuse me Daniel Scales, but when Commissioner Ingalsbe admits to no previous knowledge of KBR’s record before being pressed by a reporter, then it leaves you to wonder. Im sure she’s very intelligent and capable, however in this case she had a slight slip. It’s ok, it happens. She now has the opportunity to make it all better.
    Your remark is unwarranted and shows your lack of interest in facts (Ingalsbe admitting she didnt know KBR was a bad company, although you would have to be completely oblivious to world affairs to not know that) and it shows your interest at attacking me based on your emotional feelings.
    Enough said, you made yourself look foolish sir!

  24. No need to do so Daniel. I dont want to involve myself in a back and forth with you where nothing will be proved or solved. The facts speak for themselves. They have been recorded in several news articles. I’ll just reiterate that I hope Commissioner Ingalsbe will put strong consideration behind other companies to build the design for the project. We do NOT need to provide KBR with our tax dollars!

  25. John, why put it all on Commissioner Ingalsbe? The entire San Marcos City Council was sucked in by the tentacles of KBR.

  26. Ray the reason I’m putting this on Commissioner Ingalsbe is becuase I’m talking about the County. City Council has nothing to do with the County government. The elected Commissioners have now left it to Ingalsbe’s discretion, therefore (obviously) the attention will be turned to her.
    Aside from what the city of San Marcos has or will do, the County is a different entity and can hire a different company. I assure you I’ve emailed all SM city councilmembers regarding their contract with KBR on behalf of us.
    But to make sure I have answered your question perfectly spelled out Ray Sterling.. Im focusing on Ingalsbe, because the Commissioners court has decided to leave it up to her discretion. Therefore she is the point person, not the city of San Marcos, when it comes to the contract between the COUNTY and KBR.

  27. Got it JOHN! Mr, Scales, if you are sincere then Ms. Ingalsbe will rescind her proposition. We will wait and see!

  28. Im sorry if I seemed rude Ray, it’s just that I get frustrated when people question my motives of wanting to keep our elected officials accountable. But next Tuesday, 3/31 Commissioners Court begins at 9 am, and there will be a big crowd there in opposition to KBR. I recommend anyone with an interest in keeping our tax dollars from the corrupt KBR should make the meeting and sign up to speak.

  29. John, I will be there and I understand that Lisa Marie Coppoletta will attend as well and I’m sure will have a solar ton to say about the measure! Thanks for all that you do.

  30. KBR is not only under investigation for electrocutions, there have been multiple rapes, assaults as well as the Hexavalent Chromium exposure. May this grassroots effort and victory be the first of many.

  31. Just spoke to an Iraq vet that was at the commissioner’s court and they vote unanimously to deny KBR a county contract!

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