NEW YORK (CNN/Money) -
If it's Wednesday, Halliburton Co. must be in the middle of a political firestorm. But the hubbub seems unlikely to affect the ability of Vice President Dick Cheney's old employer to take part in the multibillion-dollar job or rebuilding Iraq.
Tuesday night, Reps. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) and John Dingell (D-Mich.) asked Congress' General Accounting Office (GAO) to investigate government jobs given to Halliburton, the world's biggest oilfield services company, in the past two years. That includes a recent contract from the Army Corps of Engineers to make emergency repairs to Iraq's oil infrastructure.
The congressmen complained that Halliburton won the Army contract unopposed and questioned the open-ended nature of how Halliburton would get paid, raising a 1997 GAO investigation that alleged Halliburton overcharged for work it did in Bosnia.
Last week, news reports said political scrutiny might have caused Halliburton to back out of a joint bid to win a $600 million State Department contract to rebuild Iraq's roads, bridges and other infrastructure. But the company is still in the running to win a subcontract for such work, and the latest round of political heat probably won't affect that, some analysts said.
"Any contracts will be awarded on merit," said Stephen Gengaro, an analyst with Jefferies & Co. Inc., an investment firm with no relationship to Halliburton. "The politics is not putting a dent in Halliburton's earnings or their ability to win contracts."
Gengaro has a "buy" rating on Halliburton shares, which he does not own, and says they could trade "in the mid-to-high 30s" in the next 18 months. Halliburton (HAL: up $0.07 to $20.88, Research, Estimates) was trading at about $21 a share Wednesday morning.
Still, Gengaro and other analysts doubt that Halliburton's share of the State Department contract will do much for its bottom line, representing a small part of the company's total business.
"If you look at Halliburton's history and financial statements, the oilfield services business has materially higher margins than does the engineering and construction side, and this would be a small chunk of the engineering and construction business," Gengaro said.
The State Department could award the contract as early as this week. Two private contractors from California, San Francisco-based Bechtel Corp. and Pasadena, Calif.-based Parsons Corp., are reportedly the last two companies in the running for the contract.
Neither company will comment on its chances for getting the job or the likelihood Halliburton will be a subcontractor.
Cheney sold his shares of Halliburton in 2000 and promised any profits from stock options he still owns will be given to charity. He still receives deferred compensation from Halliburton, for whom he was CEO from 1995-2000. That compensation is guaranteed even if Halliburton goes into bankruptcy.