Major problems remain at the troubled $736-million U.S. embassy project in Baghdad, said House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Henry Waxman (D-Calif.).

The project was declared "substantially complete" by a State Dept. official in December 2007. But in a letter to Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice, Waxman said evidence received by his committee suggests that "this certification of substantial completion was premature and suspect."

Waxman cited a Feb. 13 report from State Dept. inspectors that identified "deficiencies, both critical and non-critical, in most buildings" and "major deficiencies in the infrastructure." Waxman said, "The report finds numerous construction defects at the embassy that should have precluded a finding of substantial compliance."

Among the problems identified by the State Dept. inspectors were an incomplete fire alarm system and "critical deficiencies" in the fire pump responsible for sending water through the underground mains to the buildings' sprinkler systems.

Draft reports from a separate inspection firm hired by the contractor on the project also found deficiencies in several of the embassy's critical fire safety systems, including water supply, fire alarms and sprinklers, Waxman said.

Kuwaiti firm First Kuwaiti General Trade and Contracting Co. is the contractor on the project. According to Justice Dept. documents released by the committee, First Kuwaiti Managing Partner Wadhi El Absi allegedly paid more than $200,000 in illegal kickbacks to a Kellogg Brown & Root Services, Inc. employee to obtain subcontracts to provide logistical support to U.S. troops in Iraq. The former KBR employee pleaded guilty to the charges in July, 2007.

State Dept. spokesman Tom Casey said in a Feb. 29 press briefing that work on the project is continuing. "We certainly have no intention of taking occupancy or establishing occupancy in a facility that doesn't fully meet all our standards."

The oversight panel has scheduled a hearing March 12 to assess the project's current status.