Contracting prinicipal proclaimed things are not right and now pays
In the world as Bunnatine Greenhouse sees it, people do the right thing. They
stand up for the greater good and they speak up when things go wrong. She believes
God has a purpose for each life and she prays every day for that purpose to
be made evident. These days she is praying her heart out, because she is in
a great deal of trouble.
Bunnatine “Bunny” Greenhouse is the Principal Assistant Responsible
for Contracting (“PARC” in the alphabet soup of military acronyms)
in the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Lest the title fool, she is responsible
for awarding billions upon billions in taxpayers’ money to private companies
hired to resurrect war-torn Iraq and to feed, clothe, shelter and do the laundry
of American troops stationed there.
She has rained a mighty storm upon herself for standing up, before members
of Congress and live on C-SPAN to proclaim things are just not right in this
staggeringly profitable business.
She has asked many questions: Why is Halliburton — a giant Texas firm
that holds more than 50 percent of all rebuilding efforts in Iraq — getting
billions in contracts without competitive bidding? Do the durations of those
contracts make sense? Have there been violations of federal laws regulating
how the government can spend its money?
Halliburton denies any wrongdoing. “These false allegations have been
recycled in the media ad nauseam,” the company said in response to a list
of e-mailed questions from The Associated Press.
Now Bunny Greenhouse may lose her job — and her reputation, which she
spent a lifetime building.
She is a black woman in a world of mostly white men; a 60-year-old workaholic
who abides neither fools nor frauds. But she is out of her element in this fight,
her former boss said.
“What Bunny is caught up in is politics of the highest damn order,”
said retired Gen. Joe Ballard, who hired Greenhouse and headed the Corps until
2000. “This is real hardball they’re playing here. Bunny is a procurement
officer, she’s not a politician. She’s not trained to do this.”
Greenhouse has known for a long time that her days may be numbered. Her needling
of contracts awarded to Halliburton subsidiary Kellogg, Brown & Root (KBR)
predated the war in Iraq, beginning with costs she said were spiraling “out
of control” from a 2000 Bosnia contract to service U.S. troops. From 1995
to 2000, Halliburton’s CEO was Dick Cheney, who left to run for vice president.
He maintains his former company has not received preferential treatment from
Since then, she had questioned both the amounts and the reasons for giving
KBR tremendous contracts in the buildup to invading Iraq. At first she was ignored,
she said. Then she was cut out of the decision-making process.
Last October 6, she was summoned to the office of her boss. Major Gen. Robert
Griffin, the Corps’ deputy commander, was demoting her, he told her, taking
away her Senior Executive Service status and sending her to midlevel management.
Not unlike being cast out of the office of bank president into the cubicle of
branch manager. Griffin declined to be interviewed by the AP.
Her performance was poor, said a letter he presented. This was a surprise.
Her previous job evaluations had been exemplary, she said. The basic theme was
that she was “difficult,” and “nobody likes you,” she
If she didn’t want the new position, she could always retire with full
benefits, the letter noted.
Over my dead body, said Greenhouse.
“I took an oath of office. I took those words that I was going to protect
the interests of my government and my country. So help me God,” she says.
“And nobody. Has the right. To take away my privilege. To serve my government.
She has hired lawyer Michael Kohn, who successfully represented Linda Tripp
in her claim that the Pentagon leaked personal information after she secretly
taped Monica Lewinsky’s confessions of a sexual affair with President
Two weeks after Greenhouse’s trip to the woodshed, Kohn wrote an 11-page
letter to the acting Secretary of the Army, requesting an independent investigation
of “improper action that favored KBR’s interests.”
He also asked that his client be protected against retaliation under whistleblower
Then he reminded the Army secretary of Federal Acquisition Requirement 3.101:
“Government business shall be conducted in a manner above reproach …
with complete impartiality and with preferential treatment for none.”
The status of an independent investigation by the Defense Department is unclear.
“As a matter of policy, we do not comment on open and ongoing investigations,”
said Pentagon spokeswoman Lt. Col. Rose-Ann Lynch.
Halliburton is also under federal investigation for alleged favoritism by the
Bush administration. FBI agents questioned Greenhouse for nine hours last November
about that probe. In March, a former employee was indicted for taking bribes
while working for KBR in Iraq.
Company spokeswoman Melissa Norcross said KBR has “delivered vital services
for U.S. troops and the Iraqi people at a fair and reasonable cost, given the
Meanwhile, Greenhouse has been placed under a 3-month performance review ending
When Gen. Ballard hired her in 1997 she was overqualified — three master’s
degrees and more than 20 years of contracting experience in private industry,
the Army and the Pentagon.
“She is probably the most professional person I’ve ever met, ”
Ballard said. “And she plays it straight. That created problems for her
after I left.”
Ballard used her, he said, to help him revolutionize the Corps — by ending
the old-boys practice of awarding contracts to a favored few, and by imposing
private industry standards on a mammoth, 230-year-old government agency with
35,000 workers. He felt the Corps, which had overseen everything from building
hydroelectric dams to the Soo Locks to the Manhattan Project, needed a hard
boot into the new age of contracting.
“The Corps is a tough organization. And I’ll tell you, it’s
not easy to be a woman in this organization, and a black one at that,”
said Ballard, who was the first black leader of the Corps.
He is not optimistic about her future.
“I think you can put a fork in it,” he said. “Her career
At Corps headquarters, few speak to her, she said, and her bosses write down
what she says at departmental meetings.
Sometimes, as she walks down a hall, someone will mutter, “Go for it,
Bunny,” or “Give ‘em hell,” she said. “They pass
by saying this while they’re looking straight ahead,” she recounted,
In a city where politics is everything, including blood sport, she refuses
to play. Right down to her clothes.
Bunny Greenhouse does not subscribe to the Capitol chic of a dowdy Janet Reno
jacket and skirt or a boxy Hillary Clinton suit with buttons the size of quarters.
On a sweltering summer day, seated in her lawyer’s Georgetown office,
Greenhouse wears a vibrant pink-and-black shirt, tight-fitting trousers with
creases that could cut butter, and a blazer with a shredded-fabric flower.
Her bag — overflowing with files, papers, pens, wallet, cell phone —
rivals the weight of a bound copy of the federal budget. Underestimate her at
“I have never gone along to get along. And I’m willing to suffer
the consequences,” she said.
Her contracting staff was sharply reduced, she said, and her superiors have
gone behind her back, most notably in issuing an emergency waiver — on
a day she was out of the office — that allowed KBR to ignore requests
from Department of Defense auditors who issued a draft report in 2003 concluding
KBR overcharged the government $61 million for fuel in Iraq.
“They knew I would never have signed it,” she said.
The Army Corps of Engineers declined to comment on Greenhouse’s complaints.
“It’s a personnel matter,” said Corps spokeswoman Carol Sanders.
“We’re not going to go point-by-point with Ms. Greenhouse’s
“They want me out,” Greenhouse said.
In her job, Greenhouse is mandated by Congress to get the best quality at the
cheapest price from the most qualified supplier. Over her objections, KBR was
awarded three multibillion-dollar war-related contracts, two of them without
Together, they are worth as much as $20 billion — the entire cost of
the Manhattan Project, adjusted to today’s dollars.
Greenhouse’s most strenuous complaints were over the Restore Iraqi Oil
contract, estimated at $7 billion, originally planned to handle oil field fires
that might be started by Saddam Hussein’s troops. When that failed to
happen, it morphed into an agreement to repair oil fields and import fuel for
civilians and soldiers.
The contract was given to KBR in March 2003. In Greenhouse’s view, that
process violated federal regulations concerning fair and open bidding. Halliburton
A month before KBR got the contract — and three weeks before the U.S.
invaded Iraq — she had demanded KBR officials be ejected from a Pentagon
meeting attended by high-ranking officials from the Corps and the Defense Department.
“They should not have been there,” she said. “We were discussing
the terms of the contract.”
Later, she would tell Democratic members of Congress: “The abuse related
to contracts awarded to KBR represents the most blatant and improper contract
abuse I have ever witnessed during the course of my professional career.”
At the Corps, Greenhouse said she was told KBR was the only qualified firm.
With the country on the brink of war, she reluctantly signed the RIO contract.
But next to her signature, she boldly wrote an objection to the only thing she
felt she could challenge — the contract’s length, five years. One
year would have been more than fair, she said. After that, it should have been
put out for bid among contractors with top security clearances.
“I caution that extending this sole source contract beyond a one-year
period could convey an invalid perception that there is not strong intent for
a limited competition,” she penned in neat cursive.
In June, she was asked to testify before the Democratic Policy Committee —
formed by Democrats who said their efforts to get the Republican-controlled
Congress to investigate alleged war profiteering had been repeatedly denied.
She was joined by a former Halliburton employee who said KBR fed spoiled food
to American troops and charged the government for thousands of meals it never
Halliburton would not specifically address the former employee’s claims.
Norcross said taking care of troops is “our priority.”
“I thought she was very courageous to come forward and blow the whistle,”
Rep. Henry Waxman (news, bio, voting record) of California said of Greenhouse.
“The administration ran around her and ignored her. We owe her a debt
And if she is forced out?
“I would find that outrageous,” Waxman replied. “They should
be promoting her.”
Greenhouse is a registered independent. Her husband, Aloyisus Greenhouse, is
retired after a long Army career as a senior procurement officer. They have
three grown children.
Bunny grew up in the segregated South, where her parents taught her and her
siblings to be proud and hardworking. Her brother is Elvin Hayes, the Hall of
Fame basketball player. She followed her husband’s military postings,
moving and moving and then moving again. In each place she found her own way,
and her own job.
Her husband watches what is happening to her and tries to bite his lip.
“Bunny has a lot of faith. She really believes that someone will stand
up and say, ‘This is wrong.’ But I don’t think a person exists
like that in the Department of Defense.”
But in her world, Bunny Greenhouse’s faith still beams.
“I simply believe that we have callings and purposes in this life. I
walk through this life for a purpose. I wake up every day for a purpose. And
every day I say, ‘Here I am. Send me.’