Parsons was hired by the State of Louisiana Department of Education for the Recovery School District and Orleans Parish School Board to undertake a complete evaluation of our building stock and make recommendations based on their findings. Discrepencies found in master plan work here and major concerns about the company’s work in Iraq raise questions about their contract and qualifications.
Iraqi Police Academy Remains Largely Unusable
Showers at the Baghdad police academy. Repairs were promised in 2006, but because pipes keep leaking sewage, buildings have little or no running water.
By JAMES GLANZ
Published: November 6, 2007
BAGHDAD, Nov. 5 — More than a year after the Parsons Corporation, the American contracting giant, promised Congress that it would fix the disastrous plumbing and shoddy construction in barracks the company built at the Baghdad police academy, the ceilings are still stained with excrement, parts of the structures are crumbling and sections of the buildings are unusable because the toilets are filthy and nonfunctioning.
The project, where United States inspectors found giant cracks snaking through newly built walls and human waste dripping from ceilings, became one of the most visible examples of a $45 billion American reconstruction program that is widely seen as a failure.
The project also became an argument for the value of government oversight when, in response to the inspectors’ findings, a Parsons executive told Congress in September 2006 that the company would fix the problems at no cost to the United States. Parsons now says that it did so, directing an Iraqi subcontractor to correct deficiencies at no additional charge.
But Iraqi police recruits, instructors and officers at the Parsons-built barracks and classrooms on Sunday complained bitterly about the buildings’ condition, calling the contractor negligent and asking why the problems had not yet been fixed. The structures were refurbished or built from scratch at an overall cost of $72 million in American taxpayer money.
Recruits in some of the buildings had recently been ordered not to use any of the toilets on the upper floors because the urine and fecal matter consistently leaked onto the lower floors, several American officials at the academy said.
An American officer affiliated with a major new project to fix the problems said he shared the unhappiness of many of the Iraqis.
“What I’ve seen here disgusts me as a taxpayer,” said the officer, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak publicly about the project. “When it’s for something good, I don’t mind flipping the dime, but this money just went from my pocket to a contractor.”
The Iraqis at the compound were, if anything, even more upset. “They used bad pipes for the sewage system,” said an officer who gave his name as Lt. Selah, a maintenance adviser, as he pointed through a ruptured drop-ceiling that had been ruined by waste leaking from faulty pipes above it.
The concrete used in the construction was substandard and is already collapsing in places because of the constant rain of sewage, Lieutenant Selah said, barely able to contain his anger. Those dangers had forced engineers to turn off all the water in the building, he said.
“The students are stinking because there is no water,” Lieutenant Selah added.
A company spokeswoman, Erin Kuhlman, said that Parsons, which is based in Pasadena, Calif., had strictly abided by the terms of the contract it had received from the United States Army Corps of Engineers to do the work at the academy.
“Parsons completed its work at the Baghdad Police College in the spring of 2006,” Ms. Kuhlman said, adding that the Army Corps accepted the work as completed at about the same time.
By July 2006, the company had been notified of problems with the plumbing. Parsons put the Army Corps, in effect the company’s client, in touch with the Iraqi subcontractors who actually carried out the construction, so that the Iraqis could fulfill their warranty to redress shortcomings in the work, Ms. Kuhlman said.
“After we were notified by our customer of the issues, our customer worked directly with the subcontractor on the warranty work and Parsons has not been asked to provide any additional assistance on this project or with the warranty work,” Ms. Kuhlman said.
But dire problems with the project were discovered in inspections in August and September 2006 by the Office of the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction, an independent agency led by Stuart W. Bowen Jr. His report on the inspections severely criticized not only Parsons but also the Army Corps for oversight that the report said was so weak as to be almost nonexistent in some respects.
Mr. Bowen’s report also stated that inspectors had found “indications of potential fraud” in the project and had referred the case to its investigative division.
Those indications are apparently still being studied. On Monday, the American military referred questions on continuing problems with the project to a spokesman for the Civilian Police Assistance Training Team, a part of Multi-National Security Transition Command Iraq, the organization that works most closely with Iraqi security forces and is now trying to repair the academy buildings.
The spokesman, Col. Rivers Johnson, said the Parsons contract was terminated in May 2006. Asked about the problems with the construction, Colonel Johnson said in an e-mail message, “Due to ongoing legal issues, it would be inappropriate to discuss this issue in detail.”
On Sept. 28, 2006, as the inspector general’s report was released, Earnest O. Robbins II, a senior vice president at Parsons, testified before the House Government Reform Committee that the company would fix the problems at no extra charge. “We are repairing it at no cost to the government,” Mr. Robbins said in response to questions by Representative Chris Van Hollen, Democrat of Maryland.
But on Sunday, the American officer affiliated with the new project to repair the problems described an elaborate and costly effort to tear out and replace the plumbing on entire floors. The problems were so severe, the officer said, that the military had also been obliged to build new latrines outside and demolish some structures entirely and start over.
“These buildings are all Parsons-built,” said the officer. “The piping is bad. It really is. To be honest with you, it’s raw sewage, raw fecal matter coming out of the walls.”
Representative Henry A. Waxman of California, the chairman of the Government Reform Committee, said in a statement that there was no excuse for the state of the academy.
“Over a year has passed with virtually no progress fixing the abysmal conditions at the Baghdad police academy,” Mr. Waxman said.
“The police academy was supposed to be a showcase project, but it now epitomizes wasteful spending and incompetent oversight,” he said. “The administration said this mess would be cleaned up, but once again, the money was squandered and no one was held accountable.”
At the academy, Sgt. Oday Chaloo Hamid said that because of breakdowns, the broad, three-story barracks he lived in depended on just four toilets. He added that several American commissions had come through to study the problems, but that little had been done.
“They just give promises,” Sergeant Hamid said.