ASHINGTON, Dec. 11 — A Pentagon investigation has found evidence that a subsidiary of the politically connected Halliburton Company overcharged the government by as much as $61 million for fuel delivered to Iraq under huge no-bid reconstruction contracts, senior military officials said Thursday.
The subsidiary, Kellogg, Brown & Root, also submitted a proposal for cafeteria services that seemed to be inflated by $67 million, the officials said. The Pentagon rejected that proposal, they said.
The problems involving Halliburton, where Vice President Dick Cheney was chief executive, were described in a preliminary report by auditors, the officials said. The Pentagon contracts were awarded without competitive bidding and have a potential value of $15.6 billion; recent estimates by the Army have put the current value of the Halliburton contracts at about $5 billion.
Halliburton denied overcharging and called the inquiry a "routine audit." Dave Lesar, the company's chairman, president and chief executive, said in an e-mail statement, "We welcome a thorough review of any and all of our government contracts."
Dov Zakheim, the Pentagon's budget chief, said, "Contractor improprieties and/or contract mischarging on department contracts will neither be condoned nor allowed to continue."
Halliburton, which had more than $12.5 billion in revenues in 2002, has emerged as a symbol for many people who opposed the war in Iraq and who claimed that the interests of such companies with close political ties were given too much consideration by the administration.
Criticism intensified when Halliburton received the no-bid contract to provide billions of dollars in services in Iraq. Administration officials counter that few companies have the resources and expertise to carry out the work needed.
Military officials said the Pentagon was negotiating with K.B.R. over how to resolve the fuel charges. But Michael Thibault, deputy director of the Defense Contract Audit Agency, said in a telephone interview that a draft report by the agency had recommended that the Army Corps of Engineers seek reimbursement.
The officials said Halliburton did not appear to have profited from overcharging for fuel, but had instead paid a subcontractor too much for the gasoline in the first place.
Halliburton has also said that one reason it needed to charge a high price for fuel was that it must be delivered in a combat zone. Several K.B.R. workers have been killed or wounded in attacks by Iraqis.
Other questions, in a second contract with the Army, involved unacceptable delays by the subsidiary in providing cost estimates for dozens of projects already under way in Iraq, Mr. Thibault said. These violations, for work that includes the construction of food, housing and other facilities for the military, could involve inflated costs as well, he added.
A spokeswoman for Halliburton, Wendy Hall, said in an e-mail message that the inquiry was part of a "routine audit" and that it was "not the fact that K.B.R. has overcharged."
Mr. Lesar, the chief executive, said in his e-mail: "We will work with all government agencies to establish that our contracts are not only good for the United States, but also the company is the best and most qualified contractor to perform these difficult and dangerous tasks."
Mr. Thibault said that it would be "premature" to describe the auditor's conclusions as final, that the investigation was continuing and that the Halliburton subsidiary "deserves a chance to respond to our findings." He said auditors expected to issue a final report this month, but added that the preliminary findings involved overcharging that was "potentially very substantial."
The two Halliburton contracts are by far the largest awarded by the Pentagon in Iraq. Some Democrats have criticized the awarding of contracts to the Halliburton subsidiary, saying they might appear to be a political payoff to a company well connected with Republicans.
But administration and Halliburton officials have denied that politics played any role in the awards to K.B.R., whose work in Iraq involves a contract with the Army Corps of Engineers for repairing and restoring Iraq's oil industry. The initial value of the work was set at $7 billion. A second contract with the Army for logistical support has a maximum value of $8.6 billion, military officials said.
Mr. Thibault would not be specific about the basis on which the auditors have found evidence that the Halliburton subsidiary has overcharged for the fuel it is providing in Iraq under the oil contract.
But government documents show that the United States government is paying Halliburton an average of $2.64 a gallon to import gasoline to Iraq from Kuwait, more than twice what others are paying.
Representative Henry A. Waxman, a California Democrat who has been a leading Congressional critic of the contract, said the preliminary audit "confirms what we've known for months: Halliburton has been gouging taxpayers and the White House has been letting them get away with it."
"It is deplorable and we need to put an immediate end to it," Mr. Waxman said in a written statement. "There needs to be a top-to-bottom review of all the Iraqi contracts."
Defense Department and other government officials said a draft report of the audit agency's finding was sent to K.B.R. on Dec. 5 and included "harsh assessments" of the company's handling of its contract to import fuel from Kuwait.
Mr. Thibault said that Halliburton had promised a response by Dec. 17, and that the agency would issue a final report within a week after that. Once that report is complete, it will be turned over to the clients, including the Army Corps of Engineers, which contracted with K.B.R. in March for tens of millions of gallons of gasoline, benzene and other fuel.
The audit agency has also discussed with K.B.R. the delays in the pricing of elements of the logistics contract, military officials said. Among projects under way, the company has provided the government with cost estimates for just 12 orders, with 69 outstanding and overdue, the officials said. They said the delays raised the possibility that the company would eventually claim an unacceptably high cost for a project whose work was already largely completed.
The company's work for the military in Iraq has evolved from putting out oil field fires to overseeing rebuilding of Iraq's oil infrastructure and providing fuel. K.B.R. also provides support to American troops, including serving meals.
Mr. Cheney, the former chief executive, left Halliburton in 2000, after President Bush asked him to become his running mate.
The Army awarded the logistics contract to Halliburton in 2001, on a competitive basis, but its size has swelled since the Iraq war, with additional work awarded to Halliburton without competition. The second contract, for oil reconstruction projects, was formally awarded in March on a "sole source" basis, but the decision to give the project to Halliburton was made in late 2002 by senior administration officials who were part of a secret task force planning for postwar Iraq.
Don van Natta Jr. contributed reporting from London for this article.