Even while the draining of New Orleans is barely started, and the city still not fully evacuated, the infighting over who will rebuild the city (and, more importantly, be paid to do so) has started. Three names have come forward — Shaw, Halliburton, and Bechtel.
And all three are being raked over the coals for their political ties. Halliburton is having its ties to Cheney brought up yet again, along with its less-than-stellar performance in Iraq. Shaw has some incredibly tight — one might say incestuous — connections with the Louisiana Democratic Party. In fact, their CEO also serves as the party’s state chairman. And Bechtel is the prime contractor for Boston’s disastrous, problem-riddked, out-of-control Big Dig project.
So, what to do?
Let’s say we are fed up with all three companies, and we disqualify all of them from the work. We ask their competitors to step in and do the work.
One minor problem: there ain’t that many companies in that field.
According to Hoover’s Online, there are only 16 construction companies that have over $10 billion in sales a year. (I chose that number arbitrarily, but it seems to be a reasonable choice.) As a non-subscriber, I can only view the top ten. Let’s look at them alphabetically (the way Hoover’s presents them):
Bechtel: Already eliminated.
Centex: They specialize in private homes. Limited commercial experience, and (as far as I can tell) nothing even close to this scale.
Deere & Company: The John Deere people. They provide the equipment, not the know-how.
D. R. Horton: Again, homebuilders. Also, they have no locations in Mississippi or New Orleans.
Duke Energy: They build power plants. Certainly useful, but not quite what we need.
Emerson Electric Company: Electrical equipment manufacturers.
FirstEnergy: Another utility.
Georgia-Pacific: Paper and wood products.
Halliburton: We’ve disqualified them, too.
International Paper Company: Another paper and wood products company.
Now, there might be a whole host of companies just ready and willing to tackle the job, and who might do it as well as Bechtel, Halliburton, or Shaw. One commenter over at The Moderate Voice mentioned Fluor, with whom I’m utterly unfamilar.
But projects like this are HUGE. We are essentially talking about draining, razing, and rebuilding an entire city and more. That requires BIG companies, and at that level there just aren’t that many to choose from. There are only so many big projects, and only so many of the “big boys” who can do it.
No, I’m not overly thrilled about it. I think Bechtel oughta be horse-whipped over the Big Dig. I am deeply, deeply troubled by the CEO of Shaw also serving as Louisiana’s Democratic Party Chairman. And while I think Halliburton has gotten the shaft — repeatedly — over its former employment of Vice President Dick Cheney, they’ve been accused of some pretty shoddy stunts over in Iraq.
But they seem like the only ones who are capable of pulling this project off. And while they might all be richly deserving in being punished, this isn’t punishment — it’s depriving them of an opportunity.
The only ones who would be punished would be the victims of Hurricane Katrina, and I think they’ve suffered enough.
So let’s toss it open to all of the Big Boys, and see just who gives us the best plan — and the best guarantees of performance. Let’s not kick the hurricane victims around yet again — they’re already being used as political footballs enough.