"We're not going to buy ourself a turkey here. We're going to make sure that we get what we paid for," State Department spokesman Sean McCormack told an impatient press corps probing for answers on the delayed completion of the US embassy in Baghdad.
IraqSlogger has learned, however, that the official public line may differ from the opinion of those directly overseeing the project, one of whom has reportedly advised colleagues that nothing in the contract for the construction of the embassy compound's guard camp stipulates that the trailers intended to house security personnel need to be "livable."
Slogger first reported two weeks ago that the embassy compound faced an estimated one year and $100 million overhaul before it would be finished--news significantly advanced by Glenn Kessler in the Washington Post Sunday.
The project's primary contractor, First Kuwaiti General Trade and Contracting, has come under fire for rumored shoddy construction that has led to cost overruns and a delay in completion, most recently becoming the subject of a sharply-worded letter from House oversight committee chairman, Rep. Henry Waxman, to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.
Kessler, who has been covering the developments on this story closely, first reported on the project's delays back in July, when serious problems with the compound's guard camp--originally scheduled to open last December--became a leading indicator of what to expect from the craftsmanship invested in the embassy.
The guard camp, designed to house 1200 security personnel, represents only a small part of the embassy compound--its $28 million expense a fraction of the $600 million price tag of the overall project.
Kessler first reported back in July that the 252 trailers purchased for the guard camp had become uninhabitable because of the presence of formaldehyde fumes, which the manufacturer, Red Sea Housing Services, confirmed had been used to treat the units.
Formaldehyde is a suspected carcinogen linked to nasal and lung cancer, and a known respiratory irritant, which can cause cause persistent breathing difficulties after long-term low levels of exposure. It is often used to treat plywood, textiles, and other materials used in construction.
Red Sea had advised the problem could be rectified by opening the trailers' windows and letting the units air out, though that had negligible effect.
IraqSlogger has learned from a tipster that the formaldehyde levels are not just a little elevated, but actually three times the maximum allowable limits. Officials from the Environmental Health and Safety Department of State's Overseas Building Operations are reportedly furious.
The US Occupational Health & Safety (OSHA) agency, if it had jurisdiction over government installations, would require personal protective equipment to be used by anyone working in an environment with such a high level of formaldehyde present.
Despite this, Slogger's source reports, David Vivian, the State Department contracting officer and James Golden, the program manager for the project, have insisted that First Kuwaiti should be paid in full.
The source quoted from an e-mail Vivian sent recently, which said, “There is nothing in the contract that states the trailers must be livable, therefore we should pay First Kuwaiti."
By those standards, I guess McCormack is right--the State Department will be getting what it paid for.