Congressional Record: May 1, 2003 (Senate)
Page S5631-S5633                     


  Mr. WYDEN. Mr. President, we rise today to discuss the call of a 
bipartisan coalition for some badly needed sunshine in the process of 
awarding Iraqi reconstruction contracts. I particularly commend several 
of my colleagues for joining me in the bipartisan legislation, the 
Sunshine in Iraqi Reconstruction Contracting Act introduced April 10.
  First, Senator Clinton and I are especially grateful to the chair of 
the Governmental Affairs Committee, Senator Collins of Maine. Not only 
is she an excellent chair of the committee that will take up this 
legislation, she is also an expert on procurement law, a real authority 
on the very issue we have addressed in our legislation. We are very 
proud to have her as our lead bipartisan coalition builder on this 
legislation because her leadership qualities on the committee and 
special proficiency on this topic give me great confidence this bill is 
the right move for America, the right move for the Senate, particularly 
the right move for our taxpayers, and we are very grateful for Senator 
Collins' support and participation in this effort.
  Our legislation has a simple aim. It says if a Federal agency awards 
an Iraqi reconstruction contract without the benefit of open and 
competitive bidding, that agency must publicly justify their decision 
to do so. I will tell the Senate and my colleagues the events and news 
reports of the 21 days since our bill's introduction have only 
strengthened our bipartisan conviction that Iraqi reconstruction 
contracts must be awarded in the sunshine and not behind a smokescreen.
  There are two primary reasons we believe it is so important American 
taxpayers deserve additional details about this closed and secretive 
process. First, there is a huge amount of money on the line, a 
projected $100 billion in taxpayer funds. Second, the General 
Accounting Office has already reported sole-source or limited-source 
contracts almost always are not the best buy for the taxpayer.
  In my view, the need for explanation increases a hundredfold if 
Federal agencies are going to employ a process that may expose 
taxpayers to additional cost. When we introduced this legislation, we 
were concerned that the U.S. Agency on International Development had 
already awarded four of eight major Iraqi contracts through a closed 
bid or no-bid process. Even at that time, sole-source and limited-
source contracts already seemed to be the rule and not the exception 
for rebuilding Iraq. USAID announced it would limit competition to 
companies they felt had the technical ability and accounting ability to 
handle these matters.
  But since our legislation was introduced, not only have a number of 
Federal agencies continued to award no-bid or closed-bid contracts, but 
once the bids have been solicited, they even started to ignore or 
circumvent their own publicly stated criteria for limiting the pool of 
applicants. More than ever, our bipartisan coalition believes if the 
Federal Government chooses not to use free market competition to get 
the most reasonable price from the most qualified contractor, then at a 
minimum they should tell the American people why that is necessary. 
Sunshine is the best disinfectant and the news reports of recent days 
simply beg for a clearing of the air.

  On April 11, the day after we introduced our bill, one firm secured a 
$2 million Iraq school contract through an invitation-only process. On 
April 18, USAID awarded the biggest contract yet through an invitation-
only bid process. A $680 million contract to rebuild Iraq's 
infrastructure was awarded to Bechtel. On April 19, a $50 million 
policing contract was awarded through a closed bidding process. On the 
same day, the Washington Post reported that a renewable $7.9 billion 
contract for personnel services in Iraqi reconstruction was awarded 
February 25, nearly a month before the war began, with a single company 
invited to bid for the job. According to the press reports, that 
invitation came a full 55 days before the start of the hostilities.
  As each of the contracts was awarded, Federal agencies justified the 
no-bid or closed-bid process only by saying that they simply had to 
move quickly. That is basically one of the only arguments the agencies 
have left. Originally, USAID said the only companies with security 
clearances could be invited to apply. But that argument fell apart just 
a couple of days ago. USAID's own inspector general revealed that USAID 
waived the security clearance requirement when one bid was awarded. It 
turned out that the winner of a $4 million ports contract, in fact, did 
not have the security clearance that was supposedly essential when the 
limited bid process started. In effect, USAID eliminated the very 
criteria it used to limit bidders on the project. USAID suddenly said 
the outbreak of war in Iraq simply made the security clearance process 
  The only reason the United States would be awarding contracting to 
rebuild Iraq would be if the United States went to war. So if the 
requirement for security clearance was needed before the war broke out, 
it is hard to see what would have changed once the war started. As a 
Member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, I thought the argument was 
a bit shaky at the outset. I was not certain why you would need all of 
the security clearances to fix the sewer system. Weeks ago, it was 
clear that most of the Iraqi work would be subcontracted out to 
companies who did not meet the security requirements in the first 
place. But the report from the inspector general this week has 
significantly increased my concern. It turned the agency's argument 
about security clearances from suspect to essentially ludicrous.
  This incident makes the case better than any other that agencies 
should have to clearly and publicly state how they are choosing 
companies for these invitation-only bids. Perhaps if they know they 
have to face the public on these issues they will have better 
explanations or a more open process.
  We want to be clear, in the presence of actual security concerns, our 
legislation assures the protection of classified information. But at 
the same time, it does give the Congress oversight over the billions in 
taxpayer money that Americans are being asked to commit in Iraq and 
that is desperately needed. Historically, open and competitive bidding 
by Federal agencies has been the tool to get the best value for the 
taxpayers of our Nation.
  Again, independent reports from the General Accounting Office show 
that in the past, the soul-source or limited-source contracts have not 
been before the buy. According to the General Accounting Office, 
military leaders have

[[Page S5632]]

often simply accepted the level of services given by a contractor 
without ever asking if it could be done more efficiently or at a lower 
cost. In the case of Iraq, again, with estimates being low-balled at 
$25 billion and some exceeding $100 billion, taxpayers in our country 
have a great interest in making sure this money is spent efficiently.
  I also note in wrapping up that many of these contracts are so-called 
cost-plus contracts. They pay a company's expenses, plus a guaranteed 
profit of 1 to 8 percent. There are no limits on total costs, so the 
more a firm charges in expenses, the more profit it is going to make. 
If the Federal Government is going to spend the money of the people of 
Oregon in this fashion without asking for competitive bids, I think the 
people of Oregon and the people of this country deserve to know why. 
There simply should not be a place for waste when you are talking about 
at least $100 billion of taxpayers' cash.
  I understand the argument that these contracts need to be awarded 
quickly. I understand in many cases the companies receiving them have a 
long history of international work. I simply believe if the need for 
speed can adequately justify these closed-bid processes that may expose 
the taxpayers to additional expenditures, then those agencies need to 
make public why they would take these extraordinary measures that could 
very well waste significant amounts of taxpayer money.
  I want to yield my time to Senator Clinton. I thank her. She is on 
the Senate Armed Services Committee. She and I and Senator Collins have 
been a bipartisan coalition.
  I would also like to note a number of other Senators--Senator Byrd in 
particular, who serves on the Appropriations Committee and the Armed 
Services Committee--have been very helpful as well. But I yield to 
Senator Clinton and particularly express my support to her. With 
Senator Collins, we have tried to make the focus that there is a 
bipartisan need for protecting taxpayers, to make sure this money is 
spent wisely at a time when there is so much economic hurt across the 
  I yield to the distinguished Senator from New York.
  Mrs. CLINTON. Mr. President, will my distinguished colleague yield 
for a question?
  Mr. WYDEN. I will.
  Mrs. CLINTON. Mr. President, it is a great privilege to be working in 
this bipartisan coalition with the chairman of the Governmental Affairs 
Committee, Senator Collins, and with a long-time champion of taxpayers 
and consumers like Senator Wyden.
  Is it the understanding of the Senator from Oregon that the buck 
really stops with Congress? It is the Congress's responsibility to 
ensure the funds we appropriate for reconstruction in Iraq are spent in 
a fair and open manner?
  Mr. WYDEN. The Senator from New York has summed it up. This is 
Congress's call. The buck in fact does stop with the Congress.
  What we are talking about here is making sure Congress keeps in place 
vigorous oversight about the process. The process is what has, in our 
view, put taxpayers' dollars in some peril. People have focused on one 
company or another. There are inquiries underway. What we are going to 
do is protect the process that ensures, as the Senator from New York 
suggests, that the taxpayers are protected and Congress in fact has the 
last word in making sure this money is spent responsibly.
  Mrs. CLINTON. Mr. President, that is an eloquent summation as to why 
I have joined with my colleagues in introducing the Sunshine In Iraqi 
Reconstruction Contracting Bill.
  Tonight President Bush will address our Nation and will tell the 
world that Operation Iraqi Freedom's military action is over, at least 
insofar as major military engagements may be required. We know we will 
have continuing problems, like those we have seen in the last few days. 
But it is true we are now moving toward the second phase, which is the 
rebuilding of Iraq. So this colloquy we are having today is especially 
timely because of the President's announcement this evening.
  With respect to our going forward, I think the important points the 
Senator from Oregon has made need to be underscored because, for many 
of us, we want to see the plans that have been explained in the last 
several weeks about the rebuilding effort move forward as expeditiously 
and cost-effectively as possible.
  We know, as we just heard from the distinguished Senator, that a 
number of contracts have already been let. They have been no-bid or 
closed-bid contracts. As one follows the information about these 
contracts in the press, it has become clearer and clearer this has been 
in the planning for quite some time and it has been largely the 
province of a rather small group of insiders.
  I think it is imperative, not only for the integrity of our 
procurement process, for the integrity of the congressional 
appropriation and oversight process, but for the integrity of the 
entire operation that has been undertaken in Iraq, to be transparent 
and open before the world.
  If I may ask the Senator from Oregon another question, is it correct 
the legislation we have introduced would require when contracts are 
awarded without a full and open competition, behind closed doors, that 
the awarding agency--whether it is the Department of Defense or USAID--
would have to publicly explain why they could not have had an open 
  Mr. WYDEN. The Senator is correct. Again, that is what the 
legislation is about. There is a certain irony in that that information 
is in fact already available. The bipartisan legislation we have put 
together with the Chair of the Governmental Affairs Committee, Senator 
Collins, says what is already completed work, in terms of the analysis 
and justification, simply would be made public so as to reinforce the 
proposition that there be the maximum amount of transparency, the 
maximum amount of accountability, and so the public can see why, if 
necessary, a special process that doesn't involve open bids would be 
  Mrs. CLINTON. You know, our bill also requires as part of that 
transparency, letting the sunshine come in, that the agencies would 
make public the amount of the contract, the scope of the contract, 
would provide information about how contractors were identified, as 
well as the justification and determination of the documents that led 
to the decision not to use full and open competition.
  I find that very reassuring. I do not understand why this would not 
be legislation we could literally pass by unanimous consent this 
afternoon. I don't think it is in our Government's interest nor is it 
in America's interest that there be any doubt at all, any shadow cast 
over this process so people in our own country or elsewhere can say 
there is something funny going on, this is not being done straight.
  Would the Senator agree, in addition to fulfilling what we know to be 
the appropriate procurement procedures, the fact that no-bid or closed-
bid contracts time and time again lead to overruns, to excessive costs, 
that we are also, through this legislation, trying to send a warning, 
in a sense holding out a helping hand to the Government, to say let's 
do this in the open so nobody can ever go back and question motive or 
process with respect to what we are attempting to do with the 
reconstruction of Iraq?
  Mr. WYDEN. The point of the Senator about the credibility of the 
Government I think is fundamental. I think we all know if people see 
something taking place behind closed doors, in secret, without the open 
and full process of competitive bidding, it just engenders suspicion, 
it just engenders a sense of skepticism and cynicism about government 
that just does not have to be.
  It is particularly troubling here because the General Accounting 
Office, the nonpartisan organization of auditors, has already 
documented there is a problem. So we have a combination of taxpayer 
skepticism about work done in secret coupled with the long history of 
the General Accounting Office's skepticism about these reports, and 
here is an area that just cries out for sunshine.
  I talked about sunshine being the best disinfectant, but certainly 
since we introduced this bill with Senator Collins over the last 21 
days, the fact we have seen all these contracts--in fact, one of them 
where the agency just waives their own process, without an 
explanation--I think highlights the Senator's point that the 
Government's credibility is at stake.
  Mrs. CLINTON. Mr. President, I hope we will have an even larger 

[[Page S5633]]

coalition supporting this legislation, working with us, perhaps even 
convincing the Government agencies responsible for letting these 
contracts to think very hard about the process they are now following.
  Again, I thank my colleague from Oregon and my colleague from Maine 
for providing such leadership. It is a pleasure to work with them. But 
it is also a duty. I think all of us feel a heavy responsibility to 
make sure the billions and billions of dollars--maybe as much as $100 
billion that will be spent on reconstructing Iraq--is spent in the most 
effective way. Because, while we are looking at the extraordinary costs 
of this kind of task awaiting us in Iraq, we are also in this body 
hearing from our constituents, as many of us did over the previous 2 
weeks, about what is happening to their schools, what is happening to 
their hospitals.
  So we have to be especially conscious that this money can be 
justified; that we can look our constituents in the eyes when they say, 
I don't understand, Senator. I thought we were going to get more help 
for our poor schools. Senator, I don't understand. Our hospital has 
just closed down because we can't get enough reimbursements from the 
Federal Government.

  This is not only about all of the good government principles. It is 
not even only about the integrity and credibility of our government. It 
is about the choices that are being made. These choices are not only 
important with respect to contracting, but they are important with 
respect to our values.
  I hope our colleagues will join us in moving this piece of important 
legislation through so that we can begin to practice what many of us 
preach about transparency and openness and also making sure we get the 
very best deal. Our dollars are limited. If there is any excess on 
justified dollars going to Iraq that could go to my kids and schools in 
New York City, or to Ron's hospital in Oregon, that is our 
  Let me again thank my colleagues. I look forward to being successful 
with this bipartisan coalition and getting this legislation passed at 
the earliest possible time.
  Mr. WYDEN. Mr. President, to wrap up, I would like to reaffirm a 
point that the distinguished Senator from New York mentioned with 
respect to the feeling of our citizens at a time when there are so many 
schools that are underfunded and seniors can't afford their medicine 
and other services. When I was home over the break--perhaps the Senator 
from New York heard this as well--many constituents came up to me and 
said: We are really glad that you are pushing this bill at more 
competitive bidding and reconstruction contracts. But, to tell you the 
truth, why don't you just have Iraqi oil pay for all of the 
reconstruction? We don't need the taxpayer money.
  There already is a sense about the Nation that we have to be careful 
about how these funds are being used. I think there is a role for the 
United States to play. I think it is clear that is a part of an 
important contribution that our country can make with the conflict 
winding down. But it just reaffirms in my mind how critical it is to 
use this money wisely. With the American people hurting now with what 
one might say is the highest unemployment rate of our country, you 
can't explain to the taxpayers of this Nation frittering away dollars 
on contracts that are let without competitive bids.
  We look forward to colleagues of both political parties joining us in 
this effort. It seems to me a bill such as this should be passed 
unanimously with all 100 Senators onboard. We look forward to seeing 
the resolution of this legislation to protect the taxpayers.
  Again, I want to close by expressing my thanks to the chairman of the 
committee where this legislation was sent. Senator Collins has been a 
critical partner in this effort to direct procurement law. Senator 
Byrd, who holds, of course, a longstanding interest in this matter and 
serves on both the Appropriations and the Armed Services Committees, 
has been invaluable to me in particular in providing counsel with 
respect to how to move this legislation forward. Together we look 
forward to passing this bill and protecting the taxpayers' interests as 
perhaps $100 billion of taxpayer money is spent in the rebuilding of 

  I yield the floor.