(Photo courtesy of Bechtel/Jonathan Eliiman)

Clifford G. Mumm, Bechtel National Inc.’s project director overseeing the $680-million U.S. Agency for International Development rebuilding contract in Iraq, admits that looting and other security concerns have hindered work.

In a wide-ranging interview with ENR on July 15 in Bechtel’s Washington, D.C., office, Mumm said that the assessment phase of the reconstruction is finished and the tough task of determining the best use of contract dollars to repair and rebuild seven sectors soon will begin. Some aspects of emergency work, particularly the dredging of the Umm Qasr seaport, are nearly finished. Emergency work under way at Umm Qasr is expected to be largely completed in August.

Saboteurs continue to target the nation’s infrastructure, with the power sector a primary target of looters. Mumm says 13 towers of a 400-kv transmission line extending from Baghdad to the north were down when Bechtel crews first surveyed the line. Earlier this month, the number jumped to 65. Looters are "harvesting the copper" that they strip from the transmission lines.

This looting is not easy, says Mumm. Looters chop the wires by hand and burn off the insulation to obtain the copper. Several substations also have been destroyed.


Mumm says that "point security," which includes a barrier around a site or facility with a security guard, is helpful to secure a site. But looting and other damage tends to occur at facilities that cannot be protected by point security, such as transmission lines, or when work is finished and the security moves on.

Still, Bechtel is moving on a primary task of putting Iraqis back to work. Bechtel has teamed with the Iraq Housing Ministry to repair 1,400 schools and clinics before the start of the school year on Sept. 15. Workers are primarily patching walls and tiles and installing plumbing fixtures and ceiling fans, says Mumm. It’s not technical work but there is a lot of volume, he says. The damage was not a casualty of the war, but of looters afterward. "Schools were looted like everyplace else," he says.

Bechtel maintains now, as it did after receiving the rebuilding contract in April, that it intends to subcontract out about 90% of the work. "Our goal is to put the maximum amount of work with Iraqi contractors," Mumm says. This will help achieve the top USAID priority of getting the Iraqi economy back on track.

As of July 14, Bechtel has awarded 46 subcontracts, 16 of which went to 14 different Iraqi companies, according to Bechtel spokesman Howard N. Menaker.

Mumm and Menaker say continued attacks on coalition forces and other security concerns have not swayed contractors from seeking a piece of the rebuilding work. More than 8,000 companies have registered on its supplier Website. Many firms seeking the work have experience in the Middle East, says Mumm.

The awarding of subcontracts is likely to escalate as U.S. military officials with the Coalition Provisional Authority review Bechtel’s comprehensive assessment. An implementation plan, based on the assessment, was submitted in June to USAID and CPA officials in Baghdad. Specific reconstruction priorities and scope of work will be decided, likely within the next few weeks. USAID and CPA are really looking at "systems" and not just going doing repair work and reconstruction, Mumm says. Officials will determine the most effective way to spend the contract dollars across seven sectors. Mumm notes that about $193 million of the $680 million has actually been committed.

The power sector, which drives almost every other sector, is in need of the most work, particularly after years of prewar neglect. About $200 million has been set aside for power. "That’s not a lot of money," he says.

The entire sector will have to be replaced over the next two years, says Mumm. But that is not part of the current scope of work. Officials have to decide priorities: Should workers spend money now to temporarily fix plants that are not transmitting power because the transmission lines are disrupted, or should they work to feed the local grid with temporary power that’s not so vulnerable to looting?

Mumm says the Iraqi ministries have proven stronger and more resilient than originally expected. They have their own engineers and workers. In many instances this has given Bechtel leverage to "get more bang for its buck." When the Ministry of Housing stepped forward to provide workers to repair the schools and clinics, it also sent engineers who weren’t working to do the assessments. "It’s a real integrated activity," says Mumm.

The power ministry is also helping with transmission line repair. Bechtel provides the towers, materials and tools, as well as the inspection and project management skills, and the ministry provides workers to perform installation. The ministry is paying those workers, allowing Bechtel to leverage its project funds.

Another top priority, to restore the telecommunications backbone, also is under way. About $50 million is earmarked to put the core of the system in place. That means installing microwave cable switches and other components but not restoring the whole phone company, Mumm says. Telecommunications are essential for every component of rebuilding, he explains. All of the systems are interdependent, he adds.

Mumm says he believes that the $680 million is enough to get the rebuilding far enough on the right track "if it is used right." He notes that those funds will be spent in conjunction with other contracts, frozen Iraqi assets, money from Iraqi oil sales and funds from other sources such as the United Nations and nongovernmental organizations. If used properly it will be enough to "help the Iraqi economy to bootstrap its way back up," he says. NGOs, including the Red Cross, tend to gravitate to schools, clinics and water projects, he says.

No one can say how much it would cost to totally rebuild the country, he says. There is a lot of work to be done over time and that eventually will be financed by the Iraqis, he says. Mumm says it also is too early to predict if USAID will award future rebuilding contracts. He expects an assessment will be made after the first year and then again after 18 months.

Mumm says that if the work is all laid out and the security issues don’t grow, the 18-month term of the contract will be sufficient. "If the security issues grow," he says, "it is anyone’s guess how long it will take."