Thursday, July 5, 2007

The High Cost Of Cutting Corners: Green Zone Fortress Endangers US Diplomats

According to Glenn Kessler in the Washington Post, the new American fortress being built in Baghdad (which our leaders euphemistically call an "embassy") is not coming along very well. Color me surprised!

Building a castle in a war zone is never easy; in addition the "embassy" project embodies all the problems we've come to expect when "conservative" "values" come into contact with government procurement: everything's outsourced, there's no accountability; corners are cut, workers are abused, and the result is non-functional junk that costs more than it was supposed to cost if it had worked properly.

Glenn Kessler doesn't say that, of course. He's is a professional and therefore he can't say that. He says it this way instead:
U.S. diplomats in Iraq, increasingly fearful over their personal safety after recent mortar attacks inside the Green Zone, are pointing to new delays and mistakes in the U.S. Embassy construction project in Baghdad as signs that their vulnerability could grow in the months ahead.

A toughly worded cable sent from the embassy to State Department headquarters on May 29 highlights a cascade of building and safety blunders in a new facility to house the security guards protecting the embassy. The guards' base, which remains unopened today, is just a small part of a $592 million project to build the largest U.S. embassy in the world.

The main builder of the sprawling, 21-building embassy is First Kuwaiti General Trade and Contracting Co., a Middle Eastern firm that is already under Justice Department scrutiny over alleged labor abuses. First Kuwaiti also erected the guard base, prompting some State Department officials in Washington and Baghdad to worry that the problems exposed in the camp suggest trouble lurking ahead for the rest of the embassy complex.

The first signs of trouble, according to the cable, emerged when the kitchen staff tried to cook the inaugural meal in the new guard base on May 15. Some appliances did not work. Workers began to get electric shocks. Then a burning smell enveloped the kitchen as the wiring began to melt.
Quite an auspicious beginning, don't you think? Turn on the stove and you get an electrical fire in the kitchen!

U!S!A! U!S!A! We're Number One!

Yeah, right!

And there's more:
According to the cable, the electrical meltdown was just the first problem in a series of construction mistakes that soon left the base uninhabitable, including wiring problems, fuel leaks and noxious fumes in the sleeping trailers.

"Poor quality construction . . . life safety issues . . . left [the embassy] with no recourse but to shut the camp down, in spite of the blistering heat in Baghdad," the May 29 cable informed Washington.
Noxious fumes in the sleeping trailers? How quaint!!
The 252 prefabricated residential trailers, with either two or three rooms each, filled with formaldehyde fumes. The trailer manufacturer, a Saudi company called Red Sea Housing Services Co., confirmed to the embassy it had used the toxic chemical in preparing the housing. Red Sea told the embassy to keep the windows open and use charcoal in the rooms to absorb the odor, but "the fumes are still prevalent," the cable said.

The embassy cable noted that five people had been identified at various times as the project manager, and that it was all but impossible for embassy officials to obtain information from them, with no one seeming to be in charge. "Two of the project managers have had extremely limited previous project management experience," the cable said. A $500,000 project to install a fire-suppression system appeared to be proceeding without proper supervision, it added.
There's even some intrigue:
The State Department's Overseas Buildings Operations (OBO), which oversees construction of the new embassy, has kept a "close hold" on the project, making it difficult for anyone else in the government to gauge progress. "We are suspecting we will find the same issues in the new embassy," resulting in months of delays, the official said.

The embassy cable prompted a stinging response from James L. Golden, OBO's managing director for the embassy project. In a cable dated June 8, he berated personnel in Baghdad for sending their message over an open embassy system, rather than keeping the complaints in-house.
And that's another thing we can always expect when an organization as large and corrupt as our federal government attempts to do something this grandiose ...

... aside from the inherent evil of the thing!

Glenn Kessler has more, if you can stand it.