Probe of official's demotion sought

Democrats question action against critic of no-bid Halliburton contract

August 30, 2005|By T. Christian Miller | T. Christian Miller,LOS ANGELES TIMES

WASHINGTON - Congressional Democrats demanded yesterday an investigation into the demotion of a senior U.S. military contracting official who publicly criticized a no-bid contract awarded to Halliburton Corp. for work in Iraq.

With more than 20 years experience in government procurement, Bunnatine Greenhouse had been the Army Corps of Engineers' top contracting officer until she was demoted Saturday to a lower-level staff position. A military report indicated that she was demoted for poor job performance.

Greenhouse had repeatedly challenged the corps' commanding officers over their decision in 2003 to give a contract worth up to $7 billion to repair oil infrastructure to Halliburton, the Houston-based oil-services company once run by Vice President Dick Cheney.

"They went after her to destroy her," said Michael Kohn, her attorney, who added that the demotion was "absolutely" retaliation for her complaints about the Halliburton contract.

Democrats, who had invited Greenhouse to testify about her concerns at a June hearing, asked Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld in a letter yesterday to reinstate her pending an investigation.

At that June hearing, Greenhouse called the Halliburton case "the most blatant and improper contract abuse I have witnessed during the course of my professional career." Three weeks later, the Army secretary approved the Corps of Engineers' decision to demote her.

"Retaliation against employees for providing information to Congress is illegal and entirely unacceptable," said the letter, which was signed by Rep. Henry A. Waxman of California, Sen. Byron L. Dorgan of North Dakota and Sen. Frank R. Lautenberg of New Jersey. "Ms. Greenhouse has given Congress important information essential to our oversight of waste, fraud, and abuse."

Greenhouse also angered insurance companies with a proposal intended to save hundreds of millions of dollars by offering cheaper workers' compensation-style insurance to federal contractors. Her initiative drew sharp resistance from some of the country's most powerful insurance companies, which could lose business under the proposal.

The Corps of Engineers is scheduled to make an announcement on the cost-savings program as early as next month. It was unclear yesterday whether Greenhouse's demotion would affect the program, which would have awarded the insurance to a single carrier through competitive bidding.

Lt. Gen. Joe Ballard, who hired Greenhouse - and, like Greenhouse, is black - said her race and sex also played a role in her demotion. Known for her insistence on following rules, she clashed repeatedly with a mostly white "old boy" network at the Corps of Engineers, said Ballard, a former commander of the corps.

"Greenhouse's race and gender ruffled a lot of feathers in the corps command and also contributed to the disparate and highly critical treatment she has received," Ballard wrote as part of deposition given during an internal process to appeal her demotion. Ballard said he received "similar treatment," even when he was corps commander.

The corps and the Department of the Army declined to comment, citing privacy restrictions surrounding personnel issues. But a corps report provided by Kohn showed that top officials criticized Greenhouse for not being a team player.

The Los Angeles Times is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

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