United States News Digest
Cheney's Halliburton Role in Walter Reed Scandal
The House National Security Subcommittee, chaired by Rep. John Tierney (D-Mass.) has uncovered evidence that the Bush Administration's drive to privatize government jobs may be a factor in the scandalous treatment of wounded soldier-outpatients at Walter Reed Army Hospital. On March 2, the subcommittee posted a memorandum, apparently written in September of 2006, warning of an exodus of "highly skilled and experienced personnel" brought on by the Army's decision to privatize support services at the hospital complex. As a result, the memo warned, "WRAMC [Walter Reed Army Medical Center] Base Operations and patient care services are at risk of mission failure."
Even worse, according to a March 2 letter signed by Tierney and House Oversight Committee chairman Henry Waxman (D-Calif.), the firm that was awarded the $120 million contract (after successfully protesting a finding that Army employees could do a better job at less cost) is IAP Worldwide Services. IAP, which is one of the companies cited for problems during Hurricane Katrina recovery operations, is headed by Al Neffgen, a former senior Halliburton official who testified to the House Government Reform Committee in July 2004 in defense of Halliburton's exorbitant overcharging for gasoline shipments into Iraq. IAP took over facilities management at Walter Reed on Feb. 3, 2007, with 50 people to do the work that was being performed by more than 300 people at the time the contract was awarded one year earlier.
The rapidly ballooning scandal made Army Secretary Francis Harvey a casualty on March 2. Senior defense officials told Associated Press that Secretary of Defense Robert Gates asked Harvey to resign because he was disappointed that Harvey, after firing Walter Reed commander Maj. Gen. George Weightman, had put Army Surgeon General Lt. Gen. Kevin Kiley temporarily in charge of Walter Reed when his own role in the scandal is still in question. "I am disappointed that some in the Army have not adequately appreciated the seriousness of the situation pertaining to outpatient care at Walter Reed," Gates said. Kiley commanded the hospital in 2003 and 2004 when problems with outpatient care were first brought to light yet, according to veterans' advocates and members of Congress, he did little to address them.
Scandal Over Firing of U.S. Attorneys Grows
The latest shoe to drop from a veritable centipede, is the firing of the U.S. Attorney for New Mexico, David Iglesias, who says he believes he was fired because he resisted pressure from members of New Mexico's Congressional delegation before the 2006 elections, to speed up an investigation and bring corruption charges against a Democrat before the election. This was revealed on the Senate floor Feb. 28 by Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), and in a House Judiciary Committee press release the previous day. Eight U.S. Attorneys have been fired by the Bush Administration for what they charge are political reasons, and not for cause.
The Justice Department responded that the allegation that Iglesias was asked to resign for failure to bring that political indictment is "flatly false."
The New York Times noted March 1 that, although the DOJ claims the dismissals were mostly "performance related," Iglesias, like most of the other fired U.S. Attorneys, recently had a positive job-performance review by the Justice Department in Washington.
The House Judiciary Committee announced Feb. 27 that it planned to issue subpoenas for a March 6 hearing to Iglesias and other fired U.S. Attorneys, Carol Lam, H.E. Cummins III, and John McKay.
Obey Plans To Move War Supplemental, Quickly
On Feb. 28, House Appropriations Committee chair Rep. David Obey (D-Wisc.) announced that he has set March 7 as a target date to mark up Bush's fiscal 2007 supplemental measure, and that his goal is to bring the bill to the floor for debate the following week.
Bush seeks $103 billion for war and hurricane relief efforts in this supplemental, of which $93.4 billion is for the Pentagon. The request comes on top of the $70 billion Congress already appropriated for the war on terror in fiscal 2007.
Obey's announcement followed a House Democrats' meeting on Feb. 27, after which Speaker Nancy Pelosi said that Rep. John Murtha's proposals on troop standards will be debated in the Appropriations Committee the second week in March. The Feb. 28 San Francisco Chronicle reported on a compromise on Murtha's original amendment: "Murtha's plan would place conditions on training, equipment and deployment, but not tie the money to those conditions." Pelosi stated these conditions comport with current law; it is just that the Defense Department has waived them, and so by reasserting them in the supplemental, she said, it puts the onus on Bush.
Senator Robert Byrd (D-W.Va.), chair of the Senate Appropriations Committee, said he intends to mark up the Senate's version of the bill March 20, and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), has said he would like to have the bill on the floor the last week of March.
Byrd Pins Down Pace on Iraq War Plans
While otherwise surprisingly non-confrontational, the Feb. 27 hearing of the Senate Appropriations Committee on the Bush Administration's $100 billion war supplemental request did feature Committee chairman Robert Byrd (D-W.Va.) dramatically tallying the true cost of the Administration's "war on terror" of $3.2 trillion, "every dime of which has been borrowed." He made it clear that he understood some of this money was going to the "surge," and that the "taxpayers" had a right to certain assurances for their money. "We are not blind to administration failures," he said. "Congress is not a rubber stamp, nor a Presidential lapdog."
During opening statements, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice announced the intent to involve both Syria and Iran in regional conferences, beginning in March. After her opening statements and those of Defense Secretary Robert Gates, Byrd again took control of the questioning, finally coming to (third witness) Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman Gen. Peter Pace. "Do you have plans for air strikes on Iran?" he asked, without warning. When Pace didn't immediately answer, Byrd quickly jumped in, "Maybe I need to restate this: Do you have plans for air strikes on Iran?" "No," declared Pace. "Categorically?" Byrd demanded. "Categorically," Pace responded.