By Dana Hedgpeth
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, April 29, 2007
Inspections of eight facilities that were rehabilitated or built as part of U.S. reconstruction efforts in Iraq revealed problems with maintenance that suggest some such projects may not function as long or as well as planned, according to a federal oversight agency.
The evaluations were conducted by the Office of the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction, which is charged with monitoring projects for fraud, waste and abuse of funds. The agency will release its quarterly report tomorrow summarizing the inspections and giving an update on such sectors as oil and electricity.
Stuart W. Bowen Jr., the special inspector general, said his inspectors in Baghdad began looking in the fall at projects that had been turned over to the Iraqis in at least the past six months to a year. His office looked at eight projects across Iraq, with a total cost of about $150 million, and found maintenance and operational problems with seven.
The findings range from unrepaired water leaks that damaged floors at the Camp Ur military base in Nasiriyah, generators that weren't working at Baghdad International Airportand expensive equipment going unused at a maternity and pediatric hospital in Irbil.
Bowen said that each of the facilities had generally been completed as originally envisioned but that the problems found had at least, in some cases, partly impaired the facilities' ability to function fully.
Bowen said he has raised concerns in previous audits and has told congressional leaders about the need for more support to maintain projects.
"Our job was not to just provide them with projects but projects that made a continuing improvement in Iraq," he said. "The only way to answer that is to visit ones that are finished."
Bowen said he expects his office to conduct similar reviews at 20 more reconstruction projects.
The reviews contained photographs of the facilities when reconstruction work was first finished and follow-up photos that depicted how -- because of problems like plugged toilets, leaky roofs and clogged sewer drains -- parts of some sites appeared to be in bad shape.
At the Irbil Maternity and Pediatric Hospital, initial photos showed promising results: modern bathrooms that replaced feces-plugged holes in the floor; hallways with brighter lights, new ceilings and new floors; an outdoor incinerator to burn hospital waste; and a new system that could deliver piped-in oxygen to hospital rooms.
But after the hospital was handed over to Iraqis, U.S. inspectors uncovered troubling maintenance practices. Hospital workers weren't using the generator to burn hospital waste. They explained to inspectors that the person or persons trained to operate it no longer worked at the hospital. In fact, the inspectors reported, hospital workers didn't know where to find the key to unlock the doors to the incinerator building.
At the same time, inspectors found medical waste scattered on the ground in front of the incinerator -- hypodermic needles, bandages, bottles and other debris that could have been contaminated. Additionally, inspectors also found medical waste in the drains and sewer system, which contributed to wastewater backing up through floor drains and into some sections of the hospital.
As for the oxygen delivery system, hospital workers relegated it to back-up status, continuing to use large oxygen bottles, sometimes storing them unprotected in hallways.
Inspectors also observed hospital cleaning crews using a hose and squeegee to clean halls and bathroom floors, causing water to be absorbed into walls and leak into floors below. The inspector general's office recommended that a U.S. government representative "coordinate with appropriate Iraqi government officials and request that hospital officials ensure that cleaning crews use the minimal amount of water necessary to clean the facility."
But such recommendations smacked of micromanagement that could be viewed as intrusive, said William Lynch, acting director of the Iraq Reconstruction Management Office in Baghdad. In a written response to the inspector general's findings, Lynch contended that such "sustainment" issues were beyond his or the inspector general's authority or control.
At Baghdad International Airport, where Bechtel National was hired to install generators to provide electricity, inspectors found that 10 of 17 generators didn't work.
In another case, at the Bab Shams police station in the northern city of Mosul, razor wire on top of a security wall was held in place by sand bags, inspectors found. But when the sand bags moved, the razor wire fell.
And at the Babil Volunteer Center in Hilla, which was built to process Iraqis volunteering to join their country's armed forces, electrical wiring was "jerry-rigged," bathrooms were not cleaned and a sewage holding tank was never emptied. "If the maintenance continues at its current level, the useful life of the facility will be significantly shortened," the inspectors wrote.