Washington, DC – Congressman Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore) today sent a letter to Secretary of Defense Robert Gates on the heels of news accounts that war contractor KBR may not be held responsible even if it is found to have exposed the Oregon Army National Guard to cancer-causing chemicals in Iraq. The classified terms of KBR’s contract with the Army may have fully transferred liability to the Department of Defense, making the federal government and taxpayers responsible for the contractor’s alleged negligent actions.
The letter requests that Secretary Gates address this particular case, as well as general concerns about how defense contractors are being held accountable for their operations.
“The Department of Defense must immediately address the disturbing accounts of war contractor KBR getting special legal protections, even if they are found to have knowingly jeopardized the lives of Oregon soldiers,” said Congressman Blumenauer. “There should be no special carveout for war contractors who risk the lives of soldiers or civilians, and U.S taxpayers should not be on the hook for their negligence. Americans deserve to know the truth about which and how many contractors have been given special legal reprieve. I expect the Department of Defense to explain how we are holding contractors accountable despite contracts that seem to free them of any legal consequences.”
The letter Congressman Blumenauer sent to Secretary Gates follows:
July 14, 2010
Dear Secretary Gates,
I am writing with serious concerns about the accountability for defense contractors operating abroad. A recent article in The Oregonian brings new attention to the legal safe haven in which some, if not all, defense contractors in contingency operations appear to operate. In my state, Oregon Army National Guard veterans have filed suit against KBR for knowingly exposing servicemen and women to hexavalent chromium, a highly toxic and cancer-causing compound. KBR’s claims of indemnification via the classified terms of its contract could leave the Army – and by extension the U.S. taxpayer – responsible for all lawsuits, healthcare costs, and court fees resulting from the contractor’s own alleged negligence.
Contractors that put our servicemen and women, as well as innocent civilians, at risk should be held accountable. I am deeply concerned that the Department’s contracts appear to leave the U.S. service members doubly exposed: first to the unsafe environment created by these contractors, and second as taxpayers potentially paying for the legal defense of the very contractors causing harm. I respectfully request an immediate response to the following:
I look forward to a thorough and prompt response to my inquiry.
Member of Congress