The U.S. Agency for International Development says that that it has asked a select group of U.S. engineering firms to bid on a contract that could be worth $900 million to rebuild a postwar Iraq.

The firms were sent a request for proposals about three weeks ago, says a USAID official. Special procurement laws allow for the select bidding, and also prohibit the government from discussing details, including which firms were asked to respond, the agency official says. Click here to view map

But the official says that all the firms that were asked to send proposals "have the unique capability to work under these urgent circumstances." President Bush has said that humanitarian relief, including rebuilding, should begin as soon as hostilities, if any, are over.

USAID declined to say when the main contract would be awarded. "That is unpredictable because there are a lot of moving parts" the official says, referring to the uncertainty over whether or when a war would begin. Agency officials also are preparing RFPs for secondary contracts, but the official did not know when firms would be contacted to bid on them. The Bush administration wants "to move quickly but specific dates have not be designated," the official adds.

News of the RFP was first reported in the Wall Street Journal.

Bechtel Corp., San Francisco, and Washington Group International Inc., Boise, say that they are responding or have responded to the RFP. Other large U.S. engineering firms contacted by ENR did not respond by's deadline on March 10.

Jack Herrmann, Washington Group vice president for corporate communications, says they company is talking to federal agencies in two areas, rebuilding Iraq and also destroying chemical, biological and nuclear weapons in that country.

But Bechtel spokesman Jonathan Marshall declined comment on details, including the scope of work U.S. AID outlined.

Marshall also notes that "this is somewhat speculative in the sense that we are war with Iraq. The President says he hopes to avoid war, but if this kind of work is required, we have the skills necessary to do it."

Bechtel last had workers on the job in Iraq in the summer of 1990. Some of its personnel at that time were held in Iraq under arrest.