What is it good for?

Bob Herbert, in the NY Times:

Last week Mr. Shultz’s Bechtel Group was able to demonstrate exactly what wars are good for. The Bush administration gave it the first big Iraqi reconstruction contract, a prized $680 million deal over 18 months that puts Bechtel in the driver’s seat for the long-term reconstruction of the country, which could cost $100 billion or more.

Bechtel essentially was given a license to make money. And that license was granted in a closed-door process that was restricted to a handful of politically connected American companies.

When the George Bushes and the George Shultzes were banging the drums for war with Iraq, we didn’t hear one word from them about the benefits that would be accruing to corporate behemoths like Bechtel. And we didn’t pay much attention to the grotesque conflict of interest engaged in by corporate titans and their government cronies who were pushing young American men and women into the flames of a war that ultimately would pour billions of dollars into a very select group of corporate coffers.

Bechtel, incidentally, is the company in charge of the Big Dig in Boston:

It was spring 1997, only a few weeks after he took an engineering job with the Big Dig’s private-sector managers, Bechtel/Parsons Brinckerhoff, when David Beck realized something was terribly amiss at the then-$10.8 billion project.

The FleetCenter was missing.

Not the actual FleetCenter, of course. The flashy facility had been grabbing headlines since a groundbreaking ceremony on April 28, 1993.

It was the design drawings. Bechtel had failed to depict the 19,600-seat arena in its preliminary designs, which were completed in October 1994, and instead showed an obstacle-free area for contractors to lay utility lines. Bechtel then failed to fix the problem before signing off on the final design drawings three years later.

“I sent out some e-mails, and made a couple of calls, saying, `Hey guys, we have a problem here,’ ” Beck recalled.

Months passed, and construction work was under way before the designs reflected the FleetCenter’s existence, records show.

“It fell through the cracks, if you will,” William R. Mayer, a top Bechtel engineer, recently acknowledged.

But even though Bechtel’s gaffe cost taxpayers $991,000, the company never paid a penny back for its mistake. And no one from the state or federal government ever asked.

A yearlong Globe investigation found hundreds of similar errors committed by the Big Dig’s management company, which is led by one of the world’s largest engineering firms, Bechtel Corp. of San Francisco, and includes another industry titan, Parsons Brinckerhoff of New York. The Globe determined that at least $1.1 billion in construction cost overruns, or two-thirds of the cost growth to date, are tied to Bechtel mistakes.

Yet, even as Bechtel’s errors helped drive up the Big Dig’s cost, the company never paid for any of its mistakes. Instead, it profited. To date, Bechtel has received more than $264 million beyond what its original contracts called for, in part because Bechtel received additional money to fix its errors, records show.

Emphasis added. Be very afraid.