By Amit R. Paley
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, September 28, 2006
BAGHDAD, Sept. 27 -- A $75 million project to build the largest police academy in Iraq has been so grossly mismanaged that the campus now poses health risks to recruits and might need to be partially demolished, U.S. investigators have found.
The Baghdad Police College, hailed as crucial to U.S. efforts to prepare Iraqis to take control of the country's security, was so poorly constructed that feces and urine rained from the ceilings in student barracks. Floors heaved inches off the ground and cracked apart. Water dripped so profusely in one room that it was dubbed "the rain forest."
"This is the most essential civil security project in the country -- and it's a failure," said Stuart W. Bowen Jr., the special inspector general for Iraq reconstruction, an independent office created by Congress. "The Baghdad police academy is a disaster."
Bowen's office plans to release a 21-page report Thursday detailing the most alarming problems with the facility.
Even in a $21 billion reconstruction effort that has been marred by cases of corruption and fraud, failures in training and housing Iraq's security forces are particularly significant because of their effect on what the U.S. military has called its primary mission here: to prepare Iraqi police and soldiers so that Americans can depart.
Federal investigators said the inspector general's findings raise serious questions about whether the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has failed to exercise effective oversight over the Baghdad Police College or reconstruction programs across Iraq, despite charging taxpayers management fees of at least 4.5 percent of total project costs. The Corps of Engineers said Wednesday that it has initiated a wide-ranging investigation of the police academy project.
The report serves as the latest indictment of Parsons Corp., the U.S. construction giant that was awarded about $1 billion for a variety of reconstruction projects across Iraq. After chronicling previous Parsons failures to properly build health clinics, prisons and hospitals, Bowen said he now plans to conduct an audit of every Parsons project.
"The truth needs to be told about what we didn't get for our dollar from Parsons," Bowen said.
A spokeswoman for Parsons said the company had not seen the inspector general's report.
The Coalition Provisional Authority hired Parsons in 2004 to transform the Baghdad Police College, a ramshackle collection of 1930s buildings, into a modern facility whose training capacity would expand from 1,500 recruits to at least 4,000. The contract called for the firm to remake the campus by building, among other things, eight three-story student barracks, classroom buildings and a central laundry facility.
As top U.S. military commanders declared 2006 "the year of the police," in an acknowledgment of their critical role in allowing for any withdrawal of American troops, officials highlighted the Baghdad Police College as one of their success stories.
"This facility has definitely been a top priority," Lt. Col. Joel Holtrop of the Corps of Engineers' Gulf Region Division Project and Contracting Office said in a July news release. "It's a very exciting time as the cadets move into the new structures."
Complaints about the new facilities, however, began pouring in two weeks after the recruits arrived at the end of May, a Corps of Engineers official said.
The most serious problem was substandard plumbing that caused waste from toilets on the second and third floors to cascade throughout the building. A light fixture in one room stopped working because it was filled with urine and fecal matter. The waste threatened the integrity of load-bearing slabs, federal investigators concluded.
"When we walked down the halls, the Iraqis came running up and said, 'Please help us. Please do something about this,' " Bowen recalled.
Phillip A. Galeoto, director of the Baghdad Police College, wrote an Aug. 16 memo that catalogued at least 20 problems: shower and bathroom fixtures that leaked from the first day of occupancy, concrete and tile floors that heaved more than two inches off the ground, water rushing down hallways and stairwells because of improper slopes or drains in bathrooms, classroom buildings with foundation problems that caused structures to sink.
Galeoto noted that one entire building and five floors in others had to be shuttered for repairs, limiting the capacity of the college by up to 800 recruits. His memo, too, pointed out that the urine and feces flowed throughout the building and, sometimes, onto occupants of the barracks.
"This is not a complete list," he wrote, but rather a snapshot of "issues we are confronted with on a daily basis (as recent as the last hour) by the incomplete and/or poor work left behind by these builders."
The Parsons contract, which eventually totaled at least $75 million, was terminated May 31 "due to cost overruns, schedule slippage, and sub-standard quality," according to a Sept. 4 internal military memo. But rather than fire the Pasadena, Calif.-based company for cause, the contract was halted for "the government's convenience."
Col. Michael Herman -- deputy commander of the Gulf Region Division of the Corps of Engineers, which was supposed to oversee the project -- said the Iraqi subcontractors hired by Parsons were being forced to fix the building problems as part of their warranty work, at no cost to taxpayers. He said four of the eight barracks have been repaired.
The U.S. military initially agreed to take a Washington Post reporter on a tour of the facility Wednesday to examine the construction issues, but the trip was postponed Tuesday night. Federal investigators who visited the academy last week, though, expressed concerns about the structural integrity of the buildings and worries that fecal residue could cause a typhoid outbreak or other health crisis.
"They may have to demolish everything they built," said Robert DeShurley, a senior engineer with the inspector general's office. "The buildings are falling down as they sit."
Herman said that he doubted that was the case but that he plans to hire an architecture and engineering firm to examine the facility. He also plans to investigate concerns raised by the inspector general's office that the Army Corps of Engineers did not properly respond to construction problems highlighted in quality-control reports.
Inside the inspector general's office in Baghdad on a recent blistering afternoon, several federal investigators expressed amazement that such construction blunders could be concentrated in one project. Even in Iraq, they said, failure on this magnitude is unusual. When asked how the problems at the police college compared with other projects they had inspected, the answers came swiftly.
"This is significant," said Jon E. Novak, a senior adviser in the office.
"It's catastrophic," DeShurley added.
Bowen said: "It's the worst."