NEW YORK (Reuters) - The head of Halliburton Co. on Friday denied allegations by lawmakers that the company has been gouging the U.S. government by charging excessive prices for fuel for Iraq, saying it has negotiated fair and competitive prices in a difficult environment.
"We awarded the fuel acquisition contract to the suppliers who could meet the very strict requirements defined by our client, the United States government," Chairman and Chief Executive David Lesar said in an op-ed piece published in The Wall Street Journal.
"The requirements included the ability to acquire the necessary quantities of fuel and the ability to deliver it in a hostile environment."
The Houston-based oil services and construction company has been a lightening rod for Bush administration critics since former CEO Dick Cheney left Halliburton in 2000 to run for vice president.
That connection has drawn even greater scrutiny over the past year after the U.S. government awarded Halliburton, without inviting other bidders, a contract to fight oil well fires and restore energy infrastructure in Iraq.
Lesar said the company unfairly has become a political target and reiterated that Cheney has no financial interest in the company. He also emphasized the company's history of building airfields and other facilities for the military and the tough working conditions now endured by its employees in post-war Iraq.
"Despite these steps by Mr. Cheney and the great work of Halliburton's employees in Iraq," Lesar wrote, "the company's contract with the government has become a political target."
Lesar maintained that Halliburton is "one of only a few" companies that could perform the work needed in Iraq. He also noted the military logistical support contract, which extends activities beyond Iraq, is an extension of an earlier competitively bid contract.
At that time, he said, the government asked Halliburton to develop contingency plans to restore Iraq's oil industry. That led to a contract to implement the plan once the invasion of Iraq began.
"Those who were fighting the war, and who now are trying to keep the peace, needed a support system right away," Lesar said. "A lengthy bid process simply wasn't feasible."