As the World Trade Center cleanup continues, New York City has begun secret negotiations to hand the project over to one of the world’s largest, most infamous, and politically connected construction companies: Bechtel Corporation. With barely a word of explanation, Mayor Giuliani has moved to appoint the San Francisco-based colossus to take over the lucrative job. In the process, he has brushed aside three local firms that have been heading the cleanup since September 11th. Though no specific dollar amount has yet been cited, it is estimated that Bechtel would reap an estimated $27.5 million from the deal. It would be the largest emergency contract ever granted to an American corporation.
It might also be the shadiest. Because the federal cleanup funds are being allocated by a Republican administration, Washington insiders see the deal as a favor to a firm that has long been close to the GOP. Meanwhile, New Yorkers see it as a strategic move on the part of Giuliani to shore up support from a potential campaign donor. Bechtel was the fifth largest political contributor to last year’s presidential election. Two-thirds of this money went to Republicans.
But even before the 2000 election, Bechtel enjoyed close connections with political and governmental leaders. Key Reagan-era figures George Schultz and Caspar Weinberger have both held top positions in the company, as has former CIA leader John McCone. And when Bechtel wanted to do business with Iran in the late 1970s, it hired another ex-CIA chief, Richard Helms, as a consultant.
Such connections were no doubt instrumental in winning the company contracts in dozens of other countries throughout the globe, including Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Kuwait, Algeria, and Indonesia. In many of these places its role has been controversial and even contentious. Most recently, the company caused a stir in a Bolivia when, with the help of the IMF, it took over control of Cochabamba’s water industry. When Bechtel doubled and even triple the price of water, widespread protests erupted, sparking a government crack-down. Ultimately, however, the company was forced out of the country.
- Kate Pfordresher, DC37, AFSCME
- Mitch Becker, President & CEO, AMEC
- Laton McCartney, Journalist and Author, Friends in High Places, in studio
- Bill Perkins, City Council member