Defending Halliburton

Phil Carter links and comments on an interesting LAT op-ed by Halliburton CEO David Lesare, “A Tough Job, and Halliburton Does It.”

Halliburton has become a political issue in this presidential election year. You’re hearing a lot about us. But what you’re not hearing are the facts. I know because I’ve just returned from Baghdad, where once again I watched our employees at work and once again I found myself in awe of their determination and tenacity. These men and women — more than 30,000 of them working for our subsidiary, KBR — are risking their lives each day to provide high-quality support to U.S. troops. Tragically, 48 employees and subcontractors of KBR have been killed while working to support the troops. To me, that makes them heroes. But instead of their praises being sung, their work is under attack, and the company’s contract with the government has become a target in this presidential campaign.

Lesare responds to the charges that are being flung around, noting that they’re based on half truths and distortions:

For instance, there are frequent references to our “no-bid” contract to support the U.S. soldiers in Iraq. The fact is that after a fully competitive and open bid process we were awarded a contract in 2001, well before the war in Iraq, to provide logistical support for U.S. soldiers wherever they might be deployed. KBR did receive, at the outbreak of the war, a sole-source contract issued under urgent conditions to quickly restore the flow of Iraqi oil. But what you will not often read is that the independent General Accounting Office has since reviewed the contract and reported that it was “properly awarded … to the only contractor [the Defense Department] had determined was in a position to provide the services within the required time frame given classified prewar planning requirements.” And you will almost never read that profit margins on these contracts are extremely low and that the oil contract was replaced early this year by one that was competitively bid.

The reason the attacks on Halliburton are taken seriously is that people don’t understand how our military functions. The huge and indispensible role played by contractors is a not something that’s talked about much. Indeed, even though I’ve served as a military officer and have been studying defense issues professionally for 20 years now, I had never heard of Halliburton until Dick Cheney became the vice presidential nominee in 2000. Because of that, it’s easy to paint a picture of corruption when Cheney’s former company gets awarded a multi-billion dollar contract.

As Phil notes,

Not only can few companies do this work, but the U.S. military can’t even do this work!!! That’s the point. Over the past decade and a half, the Pentagon has downsized the military and focused it on its “core competencies” of warfighting — and it has outsourced anything outside of those lanes, including military logistics and nation-building. Short of a national mobilization (which would most likely have to include a draft), the only way to conduct these kinds of missions on this scale is to contract them out to a company with the capacity of KBR or DynCorp, who in turn raise the workforces themselves via economic means.

For reasons of cost efficiency and politics, we’ve purposely constructed a warfighting machine that can only function with massive reliance on civilian contractors and extensive call-ups of the Reserve Component. Phil and I both have misgivings about such a system, but it’s the one we have at the moment. If Kerry thinks the system needs changing, that’s a perfectly reasonable argument to undertake. Slandering Cheney and Halliburton, though, is not.

FILED UNDER: 2004 Election, Iraq War, Military Affairs, , , , , , , , , , , ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. bryan says:

    A big key to the Halliburton mystique is that it’s ever-present in the oil business. Halliburton and subsidiaries – like Brown and Root – are well-known in southeast Texas, where oil is the main industry. Halliburton is the only company that does a lot of the work that is required here. There aren’t a lot of other bidders.

    I compare it to the oil-well fire fighting groups like Red Adair. There just aren’t that many people who can do that stuff.