Halliburton s victim


A HARD-NOSED career bureaucrat with the unlikely name Bunnatine Greenhouse is being punished for blowing the whistle on irregularities involving the Pentagon s favorite war profiteer, Halliburton.

Ms. Greenhouse, known as Bunny, was demoted last week from her job as the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers lead official in charge of awarding government contracts for rebuilding Iraq and as supplier to U.S. troops stationed there.

The offense that led to her downfall appears to have been asking too many pointed questions about $20 billion in contracts given over her objections to Halliburton, mostly without competitive bidding.

In other words, Ms. Greenhouse had been doing her job. Under government acquisition regulations, that means ensuring that contracts with private companies are awarded with complete impartiality and with preferential treatment for none.

Halliburton, no one need be reminded, was headed for five years by Dick Cheney before he took office in 2001 as George W. Bush s vice president. The Texas company dined heavily from the public trough when Mr. Cheney was in charge, and its diet has improved tremendously since Iraq drifted onto the Administration s radar as a substitute, post-9/11 front in what it claims is a war on terrorism.

Halliburton and its subsidiaries now hold more than 50 percent of the reconstruction contracts for Iraq. The firm also is the subject of at least two federal investigations involving contract favoritism.

Ms. Greenhouse, by all accounts, was getting outstanding job performance reviews from her superiors, at least until last fall, when they decided that she was being difficult and told her she would be demoted. She hired a lawyer and decided to fight, but the Corps of Engineers first cut her staff and now has demoted her to a lesser job.

Retaliatory actions such as this one appears to be are illegal under federal law. Corps officials are deflecting questions about her treatment, saying it s all a personnel matter that cannot be discussed in public. They hope she will go away quietly. It would be a shame if she does.

Someone inside government needs to be questioning the ever-increasing flow of taxpayer dollars that are being spent pretty much willy nilly on Mr. Bush s Iraq adventure.

To many Americans the war is a highly questionable exercise of U.S. military might that has unnecessarily cost the lives of nearly 2,000 of our sons and daughters. The idea that companies like Halliburton are reaping excess profits from it is outrageous.