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BearingPoint Gears Up For Iraq Rebuilding

Firm prepares for wiped-out IT infrastructure and safety risks
"We usually go in when the bullets have stopped. Trouble is, they haven't stopped yet," says Tom DeGarmo, a BearingPoint consultant who could be headed to Iraq as soon as this week to help rebuild the country's computing infrastructure.

DeGarmo and about 100 colleagues from BearingPoint's International Public Services Group are bound for the war-torn country to begin work on an economic-development contract that the consulting firm secured last month from the U.S. Agency for International Development. DeGarmo is managing partner for the group's IT practice.

The one-year deal is initially worth $9 million but could reach $80 million. USAID tapped BearingPoint for the job earlier this year but rescinded the contract after rivals, including Booz Allen Hamilton, Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu, and IBM protested that it wasn't put out for open bidding. The agency opened the contract to competition and again selected BearingPoint.

Photo by Murad Sezer/AP

Iraq's infrastructure, such as this telecom center, is believed to have been destroyed by U.S. bombs.
Much of
Photo by Murad Sezer/AP
It's a hot contract, in a very hot zone. American soldiers are dying in Iraq virtually every day, and DeGarmo admits he worries about his safety. After an emotional discussion with his wife and three children, DeGarmo decided to go. "My wife summed it up best: It's a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to help out your country. That puts a spring in your step," he says. BearingPoint has hired security contractor Custer Battles LLC to help protect the group, which will enter the country with a military convoy from Kuwait or Jordan.

Under the contract, BearingPoint is working with Bush administration officials and ambassador Paul Bremer's Coalition Provisional Authority in Iraq to map out new governmental institutions and policies for the country. An overriding goal is to help Iraq collect revenue and exploit trade opportunities to pay for the rebuilding.

It's too early to know all the specific software applications and hardware that will be required to support the effort, DeGarmo says, but he has some ideas. His team will start by installing basic tax- and tariff-management systems in the Ministry of Finance. BearingPoint has deployed similar systems in other countries, including Afghanistan. "We're treating it as a greenfield project," DeGarmo says. Much of the country's computing and telecommunications infrastructure is believed to have been destroyed by U.S. bombs. "We don't expect to find much of a legacy environment. Most of it's gone," he says. Foreign contractors in Iraq are using satellite systems for most phone and Internet connections.

A significant amount of government data, such as tax records, also has been destroyed, so BearingPoint faces the daunting task of recompiling that information. It won't always be starting from scratch, though, because some Iraqi bureaucrats stored data on disks for safekeeping. "That's pretty good foresight," DeGarmo says.

DeGarmo's team will draw on lessons the company learned in Afghanistan. "Based on that, the main thing that we can expect is that we don't fully know what to expect," DeGarmo says. To prepare, he recently completed an Army training course where he learned, among other things, how to properly don a chemical-protection suit and use a 9-mm pistol.