In February 2003, less than a month before the U.S. invaded Iraq, Bunnatine (Bunny) Greenhouse walked into a Pentagon meeting and with a quiet comment started what could be the end of her career. On the agenda was the awarding of an up to $7 billion deal to a subsidiary of Houston-based conglomerate Halliburton to restore Iraq's oil facilities. On hand were senior officials from the office of Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and aides to retired Lieut. General Jay Garner, who would soon become the first U.S. administrator in Iraq. Then several representatives from Halliburton entered. Greenhouse, a top contracting specialist for the Army Corps of Engineers, grew increasingly concerned that they were privy to internal discussions of the contract's terms, so she whispered to the presiding general, insisting that he ask the Halliburton employees to leave the room.
Once they had gone, Greenhouse raised other concerns. She argued that the five-year term for the contract, which had not been put out for competitive bid, was not justified, that it should be for one year only and then be opened to competition. But when the contract-approval document arrived the next day for Greenhouse's signature, the term was five years. With war imminent, she had little choice but to sign. But she added a handwritten reservation that extending a no-bid contract beyond one year could send a message that "there is not strong intent for a limited competition."
Greenhouse's objections, which had not been made public until now, will probably fuel criticism of the government's allegedly cozy relationship with Halliburton and could be greeted with calls for further investigation. Halliburton's Kellogg, Brown and Root (KBR) subsidiary has been mired in allegations of overcharging and mismanagement in Iraq, and the government in January replaced the noncompetitive oil-field contract that Greenhouse had objected to and made two competitively bid awards instead. (Halliburton won the larger contract, worth up to $1.2 billion, for repairing oil installations in southern Iraq, while Parsons Corp. got one for the north, worth up to $800 million.) Halliburton's Iraq business, which includes another government contract as well, has been under particular scrutiny because Vice President Dick Cheney was once its CEO. The Pentagon, concerned about potential controversy when it signed the original oil-work contract, gave Cheney's staff a heads-up beforehand. (TIME disclosed that alert in June.)