Top Senate and House Democrats pressed government contractor KBR on Thursday over new documents that they said show the company has tried to silence whistleblowers who wanted to report on bad practices at the contractor.
The lawmakers say the document, obtained from an outside lawyer for the company, shows that KBR sought to have employees sign non-disclosure agreements during interviews in internal corporate investigations, which required them to get prior approval from a corporate lawyer before reporting wrongdoing.
“The provisions of this non-disclosure agreement could lead a reasonable person to conclude that he or she could not provide critical information about possible wrongdoing to Congress, the Inspectors General, or other competent authorities without facing negative consequences,” the lawmakers wrote in a letter to KBR’s president on Thursday.
The lawmakers, all Democrats, also said the policy could violate defense acquisition rules and the federal False Claims Act.
Signing the letter were Rep. Elijah E. Cummings of Maryland, ranking member of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform; Rep. John F. Tierney of Massachusetts, ranking member of the subcommittee on national security; and Sen. Claire McCaskill of Missouri, chairman of the subcommittee on financial and contracting oversight for the Senate’s Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee.
The lawmakers also cited congressional investigations into accusations of fraud and abuse involving the company’s work on so-called LOGCAP III contract, a massive logistics contract worth about $36 billion to support military operations in Iraq.
KBR told lawmakers that the company had never invoked the non-disclosure agreement to prevent whistleblower disclosures, according to the letter.
Still, lawmakers said they were concerned.
“The personalized nature of this non-disclosure agreement — signed and witnessed by two individuals during an in-person interview — combined with the coercive, explicit threat for failing to comply could chill potential whistleblowers who might report fraud, waste, or abuse involving U.S. taxpayer dollars,” the wrote.
KBR did not respond to a request for comment on the letter, but officials have raised questions about congressional interest in the company.
In a recent lawsuit accusing the Defense Contract Audit Agency of malpractice, the company said military auditors were cutting corners under pressure from members of Congress. KBR also said the company was being used as a scapegoat to placate lawmakers upset about the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.
The DCAA has defended its work and denied any pressure from lawmakers.