In July 2003, the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) initiated an ambitious program to repair more than 1,500 Iraqi primary and secondary schools by October 1, the start of the school year. This effort included the U.S. Military, the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), and various nongovernmental organizations.
Under its USAID contract, Bechtel managed the rehabilitation of over 1,200 schools in 14 Iraqi urban areas. The schools were generally in poor districts that had been neglected by the former regime. Bechtel's assignment was to perform a standard set of repairs at each school, including cleaning and painting; repairing electrical and plumbing systems; replacing windows, doors, fans, and other fixtures that were broken or had been looted; and fixing lavatories.
To finish this extensive work in less than three months, Bechtel hired 69 Iraqi subcontractors, who employed more than 30,000 laborers throughout the country.
When Bechtel repaired the schools, Iraqi institutions that would ordinarily oversee the school system were not yet operational because their facilities had been looted and their personnel dispersed by the conflict. The Bechtel-managed school rehabilitation work was inspected and accepted by the United States Army, Corps of Engineers, on behalf of USAID.
At the beginning of October, with its basic work complete, Bechtel launched a proactive outreach program to explain to local officials the work that was done, solicit complaints, and guide interested parties through our process for resolving any problems related to our work. At the same time, we systematically began to revisit each school, first in Baghdad, then in Basrah and Al Hillah. As of December 28, Bechtel's Iraqi engineers had met with 547 school principals to address their questions and review the work of our Iraqi subcontractors. Bechtel engineers and representatives also met with 37 Baghdad City Council members, 360 members from the city's nine district advisory councils, and more than 70 members of the neighborhood advisory councils.
Bechtel is promptly looking into concerns that arise through this process, and is ensuring that any necessary repairs are made without delay. Bechtel will continue inspecting our school repair work three, four, and even five times until we, and school officials, are satisfied with the quality of our work.
Of the 52 school complaints that have been formally brought to our attention through USAID from the Ministry of Education, 27 schools – representing 6 percent of the schools reinspected to date and 2 percent of the over 1,200 schools in Bechtel's scope – have required additional work. Inspections are being performed or have been scheduled and appropriate repairs are being made at these schools. The remaining 25 schools required no action by Bechtel since they were not assigned to us, had issues unrelated to our work, or met the standards approved by the Ministry of Education and provided to us by USAID.
We at Bechtel take the school rehabilitation process seriously and stand behind our work. We in turn hold our subcontractors responsible for correcting faulty materials and workmanship under a one-year warranty, at no additional cost. We have withheld 10 percent of our subcontractors' payments to ensure that they complete any necessary follow-up work.
The problems that have been identified are normal in this kind of work and do not detract from the tremendous success of the Iraq school rehabilitation program. In October, more than 1 million Iraqi schoolchildren returned to a greatly improved learning environment. We helped make this achievement possible. As one USAID official told Engineering News-Record (ENR), Bechtel performed "extremely well" under a tight deadline. Our more than 20 U.S. and 100 Iraqi engineers poured their hearts and souls into this program – often at great risk to themselves – because they wanted to do something positive and tangible for the children of Iraq, and they deserve to have their efforts understood in the context of the program.