You most likely haven't heard of a feisty woman
named Bunnatine "Bunny" Greenhouse, even though you pay her salary.
For over 20 years now, Greenhouse has overseen contracts at the Army Corps of
Engineers. And up until last Saturday, Greenhouse was the highest-ranking civilian
member of the Army Corps of Engineers. She has been demoted for "poor job
performance," despite an untarnished career as one of the country's highest-ranking
procurement officers. And from what you'll see, her performance has been anything
So why did she get shoved out of her position? Well, she did a bad thing. She
raised a little hell over the Pentagon's no-bid contracts to Kellogg Brown &
Root (KBR), the fully owned subsidiary of Dick Cheney's old company Halliburton.
The Greenhouse/KBR debacle all started back in the early months of 2003, when
KBR was awarded a handful of government contracts in anticipation of the invasion
of Iraq. One of KBR's major prewar contracts, the one that got Greenhouse in
hot water with the good old boys, was allotted to rebuild Iraqi oil fields.
American military strategists were anticipating that Saddam's oil fields would
be set afire as the U.S. invaded. It never happened. The Pentagon dubbed the
program Restore Iraqi Oil (RIO). They wanted the pipelines to keep on flowing.
Indeed, the lucrative contracts to rebuild the oil fields came easy for KBR.
They didn't even have to bid for it. KBR was handed $7 billion for the RIO contract
without a question asked.
Describing the RIO fiasco in this forthcoming book Grand
Theft Pentagon, Jeffrey St. Clair writes:
"On February 26, 2003, less than a month before the invasion of Iraq,
a meeting was convened in the inner sanctum of the Pentagon. The purpose of
this conclave was to devise a project that would come to be known as RIO or
Restore Iraq Oil. …
"The top priority on that February morning was to decide which U.S.
company would receive the juicy contract to put out the expected oil field fires
and to rebuild and manage Iraq's oil infrastructure, from the wellheads to the
pipelines to the big oil terminals off the coast near Basra.
"In a way, this meeting in the bowels of the Pentagon was all for show,
a kind of mating ritual between the government and its favorite contractor.
There was little doubt about who was going to land the deal. So little doubt,
in fact, that a Halliburton executive had been invited to attend the secret
"There were several other companies that could have done the job that
was given to Halliburton. Fluor-Daniel, Parsons, and GSM Services were all were
just as qualified for the task. Yet, none of these firms were invited to submit
a bid or a plan of action...
"There was another curious hitch to the Halliburton RIO deal. Instead
of being administered by Douglas Feith's office at the Pentagon (as were almost
all of the other Iraq contracts), the Halliburton RIO contract was pawned off
on the Corps of Engineers, a remote outpost of the Pentagon known, to the extent
that it is known at all, for the management of locks and dams on American rivers.
Then an unexpected thing happened. Despite a lot of baiting from the U.S. military
and the most bellicose voices of the Bush administration, Saddam didn't ignite
the Basra oil fields."
So back to Bunny Greenhouse, who argued that the negotiation and preparation
of the RIO contract was unique, and in fact, unheard of. First, procurements
of this type never float through the offices of the Army Corps. Second, despite
the assignment to the Corps, the negotiating process remained in the hands of
Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld. Third, Greenhouse was critical of KBR's
integral role in developing the contract, something that undermines the process
of impartially selecting a government contractor. And lastly, Greenhouse could
not understand why the RIO contract was written so that any future contractor
that wanted to bid on the Iraq reconstruction had to submit their bid for work
in correspondence with KBR's agreement. This requirement, as Greenhouse saw
it, was unattainable, for nobody had access to the contract but KBR and the
appropriate government offices.
Greenhouse wasn't about to sit quietly by and let KBR off the hook. But she
was careful. She clearly didn't want to lose her job, so she initially only
spoke out about one of the aforementioned Pentagon idiocies. But Greenhouse
voiced her dissent in an unprecedented fashion. She objected to the length of
the initial contract, which extended for five long years.
Instead of sending out an internal memo venting her disgust, Greenhouse wrote
her objection directly on the original RIO contract, right next to her
signature. She wanted everyone to know that she was not pleased with the deal.
As she wrote, "I caution that extending this sole source contract beyond
a one-year period could convey an invalid perception that there is not strong
intent for a limited competition."
Needless to say, the neocons overseeing the contract weren't too pleased with
Greenhouse's point of view. Shortly after she voiced her objection, she received
her first negative evaluation, in which her reviewer commented, "nobody
like[s] her." She was about to be demoted. No longer was Greenhouse going
to have budget authority. No longer would she have any staff under her. But
Greenhouse was savvy. She hired a smart lawyer and her bosses backed off – for
a while, at least.
Then on June 27, 2005, as part of the ongoing investigation into KBR's no-bid
contracts, Greenhouse agreed to testify before the Democratic Policy Committee
that was looking into the Halliburton/KBR contract debacle. Greenhouse had been
warned only three days prior that testifying "would not be in her best interest."
She didn't listen, however. She spoke frankly to the committee.
"I have been involved with government contracting for over 20 years,"
she said. "[And] I can unequivocally state that the abuse related to contracts
awarded to KBR represents the most blatant and improper contract abuse I have
witnessed during the course of my professional career."
Shortly after Greenhouse's brave testimony, she was placed on a 90-day performance
review. She was being punished for having the valor to expose the fraud of the
no-bid Pentagon contracts. And on Aug. 27, the hammer came down. Greenhouse
As Cindy Sheehan's courageous campaign against Bush absorbs most of the media
attention these days, it's public servants like Bunnatine "Bunny"
Greenhouse who aren't getting any props, but are really shaking things up in
the halls of power out in Washington.
So we should all give a nice, hearty prost
to Bunny Greenhouse. She deserves it.