Newsroom

Getting the Facts Straight: Bechtel's Response to Newsweek

October 30, 2003 Dear Sir:
I was profoundly disappointed with Newsweek’s November 3 article, “The $87 Billion Money Pit,” and cannot help but think that this was a story in search of failures rather than an objective search for the truth about the efforts to reconstruct Iraq. Numerous individuals--ranging from USAID Administrator Natsios, Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) personnel, Bechtel engineers, and officials from many Iraqi ministries--spent countless hours with Newsweek reporters describing the reconstruction process and progress in Iraq. Unfortunately, the resulting story contained numerous inaccuracies; insulted the men and women working in Iraq at great personal risk because they believe they are doing something right; and missed the opportunity to give readers a greater understanding of the nature, complexity, cost, detailed planning and difficulty of this effort.
The authors’ treatment of Baghdad’s Daura power plant as a “window into problems that have become all too typical of America’s post war morass in Iraq …” is more than a flawed metaphor - it is wrong on the facts and reflects a fundamental misunderstanding of how a power system works. Iraq has a nationwide power system comprising 29 major generating plants, a transmission grid of high voltage lines, and local substations for distribution to homes and businesses. Each component part of Iraq’s system--generation, transmission and distribution--is in a terrible state of disrepair, requiring a systematic approach to its repair; an approach that has successfully restored power to the pre-war level of 4400 MW. The article states that levels have “since dropped back” but fails to explain that this reduction is part of planned fall and spring outages, when plants around the world are taken off line to make repairs during lower-demand months. 
The reported success of Saddam in keeping plants operating fails to note that plant managers were threatened with jail and worse if plants were ever taken off line. The managers made the logical choice, but over the years the plants were severely damaged by improper operating procedures and the failure to perform even routine maintenance. The article also fails to point out that under Saddam, Baghdad imported power from other regions of the country. This gave Baghdad power for 18-20 hours a day, but provided Basrah’s two million citizens with only two to four hours. Power is now equitably distributed throughout the country.
As for Daura, it is producing the same amount of power it generated before the conflict. Of its eight units, the two apparently referenced in your article are unrelated to post-war power outages: they were taken off line months before the conflict started; will take many months to rebuild; and were never part of the immediate restoration plan. They will be brought back on line as part of the longer range program to increase dependability in the system.
The repair of 1,595 schools throughout Iraq (Bechtel repaired over 1,300 of them) is discounted in the story by the authors' description of five schools in a Baghdad neighborhood, where the work is alleged to be substandard. In reality, Bechtel only worked on one school in this neighborhood. That work was indeed incomplete; however, Bechtel has been withholding final payments to subcontractors until proper repairs are made. Overall, the school rehabilitation program was an overwhelming success; it employed over 30,000 Iraqi workers and allowed over one million Iraqi students to return to safe and secure schools on October 1.
Finally the treatment of the work at the Port of Umm Qasr is simply wrong. Bechtel did not "leave in frustration when a Turkish company--previously contracted through the United Nations--suddenly appeared, claiming it had rights to the job."  In fact, Bechtel completed its dredging and rehabilitation work and actually helped the Turkish team finish its work as well. The port is now fully operational, serving as a point of entry for thousands of tons of humanitarian assistance as well as commercial and passenger traffic. 
A serious examination of the status of Iraq’s reconstruction is a hard story to research, and even harder to write, but it has been done by others and could have been done by Newsweek.
Cliff Mumm 
Program Manager 
Bechtel National, Inc. 
Iraq Infrastructure Reconstruction Program 
Baghdad, Iraq
Version published in Newsweek's November 10, 2003 issue:
 
Bechtel's Strides in Iraq 
Your Nov. 3 article “The $87 Billion Money Pit” was clearly a story in search of failures, rather than the truth about the efforts to reconstruct Iraq. For example, the treatment of Baghdad’s Daura power plant as a “window into problems” ignores the fact that Daura is producing the same amount of power it generated before the conflict. Similarly, the story discounts the repair of 1,300 Iraqi schools by describing problems at five schools in a Baghdad neighborhood, only one of which Bechtel worked on. That work there was indeed incomplete, and Bechtel is withholding final payments until subcontractors make proper repairs. Overall, the school rehabilitation program is an overwhelming success; it employed more than 30,000 Iraqi workers and allowed more than a million Iraqi students to return to safe and secure schools on Oct. 1. Finally, the claim that Bechtel stopped its work at the port of Umm Qasr is wrong. Bechtel completed its dredging and rehabilitation work and the port is now fully operational, handling thousands of tons of humanitarian assistance, as well as commercial and passenger traffic.
Cliff Mumm, Program Manager 
Bechtel National, Inc. 
Iraq Infrastructure Reconstruction Program 
Baghdad, Iraq