Rocky Start for Iraqi Adopt-a-Highway Program

Washington, D.C., March 16, 2007 -- The Iraqi Adopt-a-Highway Program, launched with considerable fanfare and high expectations last October, has thus far proved to be a "disappointment", according to a high-level U.S. Defense Department source who asked to remain anonymous. According to the source, subscriptions to the program have reached less than two percent of initial projections, with current trends indicating modest to virtually non-existent growth.

Iraqi Adopt-a-Highway SignIraqi Adopt-a-Highway Sign

"It's a real problem," said the source. "We thought this was going to go over big with the general public – all our focus group studies suggested it would – but it's turning out to be a nearly complete fizzle. Next time, I think we'll go outside the Cabinet for our focus group sample."

The Iraqi Adopt-a-Highway program was initially proposed by Vice President Dick Cheney as a means by which to finance Iraqi reconstruction in the wake of the exhaustion of the initial $18.4 billion budgeted for the effort, and the unwillingness of President Bush to request additional funding during the sensitive 2006 midterm election season.

"It kind of grew out of the fact that the war has cost us over $300 billion so far, which is a little more than the $4 billion the White House initially projected, and with no end in sight. Still, it seemed like a great idea," the Defense Department source said. "It tied right into the whole concept of the ownership society that the Bush Administration has been pushing, only in this case it would be a kind of direct ownership by American citizens and companies of the aftermath of the Iraq war."

According to the terms of the program, a modified version of the Adopt-a-Highway program used in many regions in the United States to lure private citizens into taking responsibility for funding the maintenance and cleanup of roads that should normally be maintained through federal, state and local highway funds, American citizens and corporations can personally, voluntarily sponsor the cleanup and maintenance of Iraqi roads and highways.

The program stipulates that subscribers to the program sponsor specific quarter-mile, half-mile and one-mile stretches of Iraqi highway. Private funds are matched by federal funds at a 2-1 ratio, with work being performed by the U.S. military or private contractors.

"Those matching funds make it a great deal," said the source, "but we're beginning to realize that the price tag may be a little high for most private citizens."

Services included in the Iraqi Adopt-a-Highway program include armored patrols, IED (improvised explosive device) detection and removal, crater repair and HUMVEE parts cleanup, as well as more traditional services such as dust-raking and sand-blowing. A one-month sponsorship of a single quarter-mile stretch of road costs an average of $42 million, bringing the total with federal matching funds to $126 million.

"Yes, it does seems a little steep, actually, if you're not a war profitee—I mean, a defense contractor," said the source.

Ironically, of the seven miles of road that have thus far been "adopted", all but one quarter mile were sponsored by the global no-bid defense contract conglomerate Halliburton, which was formerly chaired by Vice President Cheney. The remaining quarter mile was adopted by actor Bruce Willis, but, according to the source, "his check hasn't arrived just yet, actually. We think he's been busy hunting Osama or something."

Critics of the program have pointed out that for defense contractors such as Halliburton, which has thus far been responsible for the bulk of the sponsored highway maintenance and cleanup, the program simply serves as a convenient way to funnel work orders back to themselves at inflated prices while at the same time providing an opportunity for a tax write-off on the initial contribution.

"It's a fiscal shell game, pure and simple," said Artie Cringely, director of the American Group of Annoyed Taxpayers. "Halliburton sponsors five miles of highway – highway that's supposed to be secured and repaired in the first place as part of our wartime obligations, by the way – for $200 million, then makes a profit of $400 million from the matching funds. They don't even perform the work, claiming an 'untenable security risk', but the money goes on their books anyway. Then they write off the $200 million, bringing their total profit to – I'm not exactly sure, but something sickening. It makes me want to scream."

White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan, speaking during the morning press boondoggle, disagreed, saying the program was a shining example of the American entrepreneurial spirit at work.

"We're very proud of the Iraqi Adopt-a-Highway program and what it's trying to achieve, and President Bush has complete confidence that the program will significantly aid the Iraqi people on the road to recovery from the ravages of war," Mr. McClellan said. "In fact, Vice President Cheney will announce tomorrow that he will be personally sponsoring a one-mile stretch of Iraqi highway as soon as he has secured a loan for the purpose from his former company, Halliburton."

By Ion Zwitter, Avant News Editor

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