WASHINGTON A pair of powerful Democrats on Friday called on the Pentagon and KBR Inc. to address inferior electrical work by private contractors on U.S. military bases in Iraq being blamed for the deaths of at least two U.S. soldiers.
Rep. Henry Waxman of California, chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, sent a letter to Defense Secretary Robert Gates and KBR demanding details on the failures of electrical systems on bases throughout Iraq that have caused hundreds of fires and the deaths of Staff Sgts. Christopher Lee Everett of Huntsville, Texas, and Ryan Maseth of Pittsburgh.
Sen. Byron Dorgan, D-N.D., sent letters to Gates and Gen. David Petraeus, the top U.S. commander in Iraq, calling for the suspension of KBR's multibillion-dollar contract, which includes providing housing and other services for American troops in that country.
KBR on Friday said its ongoing investigation has found no evidence of a link between its work and the electrocutions.
Former KBR electricians last week told a Senate panel investigating the electrocutions that the Houston-based engineering and construction company used employees with little electrical expertise to supervise subcontractors in Iraq, and hired foreigners who couldn't speak English to do the work.
The Pentagon has said 13 Americans have been electrocuted in Iraq since September 2003. It has ordered KBR to inspect all the facilities it maintains in Iraq for electrical hazards.
Dorgan, who chaired last week's hearing of the Democratic Policy Committee, said he and four other Democratic lawmakers are objecting to the Pentagon's decision to allow KBR to inspect its own electrical work in Iraq. The committee has been examining waste, fraud and abuse in Iraq, and the performance of the country's war contractors.
Texas Republicans Sen. John Cornyn and Rep. Kevin Brady last week urged the Pentagon to release all information on the deaths of the two soldiers along with details on the electrical work to congressional committees.
"We have been and will continue to fully cooperate with the government on this issue," KBR spokeswoman Heather Browne said Friday.
Among the documents Waxman requested are a May 26 memorandum from the Defense Contract Management Agency that found no link between safety hazards and electrical deficiencies at the compound where Maseth died, and the names, ranks and dates of injury for all U.S. soldiers and contractors hurt or killed due to fires caused by defective electrical systems.
Waxman's request followed a New York Times report that cited internal Army documents, including a log compiled this year at one building complex in Baghdad where soldiers complained of receiving electrical shocks in their living quarters almost daily.
During the six-month period that ended in January 2007, at least 283 electrical fires destroyed or damaged American military facilities in Iraq, including the military's largest dining hall in the country, according to documents obtained by the Times.
Brian McNicoll, a Republican spokesman for the House Oversight Committee, said Friday that "it's too early" to tell what action ranking member Tom Davis and other lawmakers will take.
Josh Holly, a Republican spokesman for the House Armed Services Committee, said its staff also is investigating reports of electrical defects in Iraq. That committee will be briefed Tuesday by the Defense Department Inspector General's Office on the progress and scope of its investigation.
Meanwhile, Sen. Robert Casey, D-Pa., is meeting with KBR Chief Executive William Utt next week. Casey said Friday that widespread faulty wiring injuring U.S. soldiers is "unacceptable."