Army Boss Vows No Conflict in Enron Ties

TIMES STAFF WRITER

An energy company where the recently named secretary of the Army served in a top job until this year is pursuing contracts to run utilities on one Army base and eight other military bases.

Army Secretary Thomas E. White Jr. has said he would step away from decisions involving Houston-based Enron Energy Services, where he served as vice chairman, if there is a potential or perceived conflict of interest. He is in the process of selling more than $25 million in company stock and is seeking advice from Army lawyers about whether to recuse himself from any role in the decision on the Enron contracts, an Army spokeswoman said.

In recent weeks, White has advocated accelerating a several-years-old Pentagon process of hiring companies with energy expertise to run electric, gas and other utilities on military bases. For years, the military ran the utilities itself but began privatizing them on some bases two years ago to try to save money.

Enron, a major energy company with ties throughout the Bush administration, has bids pending to run utilities at seven Air Force bases, a naval base and the Army's Ft. Bliss in Texas, company spokeswoman Peggy Mahoney said. The bids were made by the company several years ago, while White was working there.

It is unclear whether White would play any role in decisions on the contracts. Army spokeswoman Capt. Amy Hannah said the decisions on which companies to hire are made on a base-by-base level and are subject to stringent public review.

And in his confirmation hearing before the Senate Armed Services Committee in May, White said: "I will personally commit to you to avoid even any appearance of a conflict in terms of any future relationships that Enron may choose to have with the department or attempt to have with the department."

Mahoney said: "The awarding of these contracts is a very public process, governed by very stringent regulations. It has been going on for a number of years. It has nothing to do with his [White's] position."

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