By Griff Witte
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, August 29, 2005
A high-level contracting official who has been a vocal critic of the Pentagon's decision to give Halliburton Co. a multibillion-dollar, no-bid contract for work in Iraq, was removed from her job by the Army Corps of Engineers, effective Saturday.
Lt. Gen. Carl A. Strock, commander of the Army Corps, told Bunnatine H. Greenhouse last month that she was being removed from the senior executive service, the top rank of civilian government employees, because of poor performance reviews. Greenhouse's attorney, Michael D. Kohn, appealed the decision Friday in a letter to Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, saying it broke an earlier commitment to suspend the demotion until a "sufficient record" was available to address her allegations.
The Army said last October that it would refer her complaints to the Defense Department's inspector general. The failure to abide by the agreement and the circumstances of the removal "are the hallmark of illegal retaliation," Kohn wrote to Rumsfeld. He said the review Strock cited to justify his action "was conducted by the very subjects" of Greenhouse's allegations, including the general.
Carol Sanders, a spokeswoman for the Army Corps, said she could not comment on personnel matters, but noted that the Department of the Army approves all actions involving members of the senior executive service.
Greenhouse came to prominence last year when she went public with her concerns over the volume of Iraq-related work given to Halliburton by the Corps without competition. The Houston-based oil services giant already had a competitively awarded contract to provide logistics support for the military in the Middle East and was awarded a no-bid contract to repair Iraq oil fields on the eve of the war there in 2003.
Greenhouse complained internally about that contract. Last fall she started giving interviews to national publications. And in June she testified before a Democrat-sponsored Capitol Hill event on contracting in Iraq.
"I can unequivocally state that the abuse related to contracts awarded to KBR represents the most blatant and improper abuse I have witnessed" in 20 years working on government contracts, Greenhouse said at the Democratic forum.
She said the independence of the Corps' contracting process was compromised in the handling of the contact. "I observed, first hand, that essentially every aspect of the [Restore Iraqi Oil] contract remained under the control of the Office of the Secretary of Defense. This troubled me and was wrong."
Greenhouse has been the Army Corps' top procurement official since 1997. Then-commander Gen. Joe N. Ballard has said he wanted Greenhouse -- a black woman -- to provide a jolt to the clubby, old-boys' network that had long dominated the contracting process at the Corps.
Since then, Greenhouse has developed a reputation among those in both government and industry as being a stickler for the rules. To her critics, she's a foot-dragging, inflexible bureaucrat. To her supporters, she's been a staunch defender of the taxpayers' dime.
In the lead-up to the Iraq war in 2003, Greenhouse objected to a decision to give a five-year, no-bid contract to KBR for putting out the oil fires that Pentagon officials believed retreating Iraqi troops would set as the United States invaded. KBR had earlier been hired to write the plans for how that work would be conducted.
When the time came to award the Restore Iraqi Oil contract, the terms stipulated that the contractor had to have knowledge of KBR's plan. KBR was the only contractor deemed eligible. Normally, contractors that prepare cost estimates and plans are excluded from bidding on the work that arises from those plans.
When superiors overruled her objections to awarding the contract to KBR without competition, she recorded her concerns by writing next to her signature on the contract a warning that the length of the deal could convey the perception that limited competition was intended.
As Greenhouse became more vocal internally, she said she was increasingly excluded from decisions and shunned by her bosses.
Last October, Greenhouse has said, Maj. Gen. Robert Griffin, the Corps' deputy commander, told her that he was demoting her, citing negative performance reviews. He also gave her the option to retire. Instead, she hired a lawyer and took her story to the public.