Corruption in the Military Procurement Process: McCain Weighs In

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Senator John McCain, a decorated warrior who has sacrificed much for this country, would do well to take action rather than talk.  At a recent Congressional hearing on cuts to the military budget, Senator McCain remarked:

“As far as I’m concerned, I will fight any additional cuts in defense spending,” he added, “but I will also tell you that cost overruns as far as procurement is concerned is an insult to American taxpayers. There are efficiencies that can still be imposed.”

Now these words sound like fighting words, but what does do they actually mean?  I am to greater risks.  The question is:  How much is enough?    It seems to me that we should adjust our military budget to the nature of threat – both short and long term.   The threat today is very much different than it was during the Cold War.  Shouldn’t we be focusing our expenditures on dealing with terrorism and regional upheavals that threaten the security of the United States rather than major land wars in Europe or Asia?

What is more disturbing is Senator McCain’s indictment of cost overruns in the military procurement process.   We all know it exists.  In fact, SFTT regularly points out serial military procurement offenders that are well documented by government inspectors.  Instead of pounding your chest Senator McCain, act now to get rid of the dead weight in our military chain of command that allows this incompetence and corruption to continue.   If you are looking for heads to roll to show that you mean business, you can find these “empty uniforms”  in this SFTT article on the corruption in the procurement of body armor for troops that serve in Iraq and Afghanistan.  Let’s make sure that accountability still exists.

Talk is cheap,  our troops and the American taxpayers want action!

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Body Armor Contracts: The Stench of Corruption

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With Wall Street protests popping up in many cities in the United States and over 150,000 signatures now collected on a new Constitutional amendment to “get the money out” of politics, it was a bit of surprise to read that Point Blank Solutions  has recently received a new $30 million order to produce “Outer Tactical Vests” for the US military.

Why should I be surprised?  Well, Point Blank Solutions has been in Chapter 11 (a court-sanctioned “voluntary reorganization” to avoid bankruptcy) since April, 2010.  One of the reasons cited by Point Bank Solutions in soliciting the United States Bankruptcy Court for the District of Delaware for a Chapter 11 reorganization was the mounting legal costs associated with defending the former CEO and Founder of Point Blank Solutions, David Brooks, for tax fraud and securities fraud.     While Point Blank’s current management insist that David Brooks has no role in the company, one must certainly be disturbed by the pedigree.

The Department of Defense may have very good reasons to award large contracts to a company in Chapter 11; however, equipment reliability and the integrity of body armor testing procedures don’t seem to be high of the list of priorities mentioned by military officials.   As recently as August of this year, the Inspector General of the Department of Defense found serious flaws in the testing procedures of Interceptor Body Armor plates.   This is just one of a series of disturbing reports issued by government auditing agencies over the last several years finding major shortcomings in the test procedures used to evaluate the reliability of body armor worn by US military personnel.

Let’s face it, our military and civilian leaders don’t give a damn!  If they did, the people responsible for testing body armor and conducting fair and impartial testing would have long ago been fired.  Furthermore, those who continue to quibble and provide false information to Congressional leaders and the public, such as, Lt. Gen. William Phillips (principal military deputy to the assistant secretary of the Army for Acquisition, Logistics and Technology), Col. Cole, Project Manager for Soldier Protection, and US Army Brigadier General Peter N. Fuller, the Program Executive Officer of the Soldier Systems Center, should be relieved of command.

Will this happen?  Of course not.  The military industrial complex that President Eisenhower warned about continues to thrive in DC.  The victims are gullible taxpayers and the young men and women who defend our country so valiantly.    The blood of these brave warriors is on our hands if we don’t insist on accountability.

Become a Member of SFTT and add your voice to help get the best protective gear and combat equipment for our Troops.   Together, we can make a change.

Richard W. May

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Brain Injuries: Back Walking Forward

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There is a growing public awareness that many returning veterans from wars in Iraq and Afghanistan suffer Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (“PTSD”) and other brain-related injuries. Some studies suggest that, perhaps as many as 1 in 5 veterans, suffer from PTSD. In fact, 8 servicemembers commit suicide each day as a result of these disorders.

The US Army and other services are aware that servicemembers with and caring inviduals are gathering forces to apply lessons learned in treating civilians with traumatic brain injury (“TBI”) and PTSD and helping our brave heroes reclaim their lives. 

SFTT, under the leadership of Eilhys England, has recently formed a medical task force to help determine “best practices” in helping to deal with this growing crisis.  Over the next several months, SFTT will be sharing the findings of our medical task force and lessons learned from an exciting program called Warrior Salute that we are jointly sponsoring with the CDS Warrior Salute Center in Rochester, New York. We are pleased to report that 7 servicemembers are now enrolled in this program.

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Body Armor Testing: Spin Doctors working overtime

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The latest flap over think is really “real” or even close to the truth.

This morning, I woke up and read an article on Yahoo’s news entitled “Is America’s Body Armor Defective?”  The alleged author of the article is Charles Simmins.  Now I have no idea who Charles Simmins is, but apparently there is a Yahoo contributor and freelance author  named Charles Simmins who is an accountant.    Nevertheless, if this Charles Simmins is the Charles Simmins of Yahoo contributor fame who wrote the article, one must question his credentials or ask the question: Is Mr. Simmins simply serving as a mouthpiece for the Pentagon Spin Doctors?

The central issue is not whether government-issued and apparently infrequently-tested body armor is “the best body armor in the world,” but whether our military leadership actually believes that it is.  Surely, the Talking Heads at the Pentagon have more than adequate information on Interceptor body armor to determine its effectiveness and  reliability, but they rarely share the facts with the public or the troops they equip.

When someone tells me they have the “best” protective gear available, I always ask, “What is the Israeli Defense Force, Mossad, CIA and SpecOpsCommand operatives wearing?”  If it isn’t Interceptor Body Armor, I have a tough time believing our government-issued body armor  is the “best in the world.”

The other thing that irritates me in the Charles Simmins’ article is the insinuation that Congresswoman Louise Slaughter, “a noted anti-war activist,” is somehow responsible for sloppy and largely non-existent testing of body armor supplied to US troops.  The report documenting these irregularities and short-comings in body armor testing was from the Inspector General’s Office of the Department of Defense.  Ceramic plates have no political affiliation:  they are either effective or defective.

Sleep well Beltway spin doctors, our troops are on the perimeter defending your liberties.  Whether they have reliable body armor is still a matter of conjecture.

Richard W. May

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Body Armor Testing: Deja vu all over again.

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Every couple of years or so (and sometimes more frequently) US Army body armor testing procedures are called into question by investigating authorities.  There used to be a saying among Army troops “that you never had time to do things right, but you always had time to do them again.”  Well, apparently in this modern army, you don’t even have “to do things right” if Lt. Gen. Phillips and his cohorts like Col. Cole, Project Manager for Soldier Protection, and US Army Brigadier General Peter N. Fuller, the Program Executive Officer of the Soldier Systems Center, have anything to say about it.  And they do!

These talking heads continue to insist that we have the “best body armor in the world” despite a systemic failure to apply appropriate test procedures.  They simply dismiss any compelling evidence to the contrary as demonstrated by their well-orchestrated campaign against the latest DOD IG report on improper testing of Interceptor Body Armor Inserts.

Now, Gen. Phillips and his buddies at Ft. Belvoir believe that the public and our Congressional leaders have short memories and they can simply talk their way out of this most recent disclosure that something is dreadfully wrong in our military procurement system.  They just may well succeed, if past history is any indication.

For instance, take the GAO (Government Accountability Office) report of October, 2009 which recommended independent testing of body armor after their investigations had uncovered much of the same shoddy body armor testing now chronicled in the latest DOD IG report.   We listened to much of the same nonsense and double-talk from our military leaders, but in bowing to public pressure the Secretary of the Army asked the National Research Council to investigate body armor testing procedures.

I am not sure what became of this National Research Council study, but I suspect that its sole purpose was to lead Congress to think that “things are under control.”  Clearly, they aren’t.

It’s time to for Congressional leaders and our military brass to do the “right thing” and appoint leaders who are more interesting in the well-being and safety of our troops than military equipment suppliers.  SFTT thanks Congresswoman Louise Slaughter for instigating the latest study.  We now urge you and your Congressional colleagues to follow-up.

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Body Armor Testing: Pentagon Spin Doctors at Work Again

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The Pentagon spin doctors are working overtime  to cover-up the latest IG report from the DoD which chides the Army for the lack of proper testing for is the most tested body armor in the world today.”

Lt. Gen Phillips goes on to say, “”I am not aware of any incident down range where the body armor failed to protect against a round that it was designed to defeat.”   The US Army then trots out examples of  where the government-issued (but apparently seldom tested) protective gear has saved lives and their more recent eyebrow-raising claim that they now X-Ray ceramic plates from troops in the field.

Col. William Cole, Project Manager for Soldier Protection, states that  “While they’re gone (troops coming off deployment) , there is a crew that will pull the plates out of their body armor and take it over to the X-ray machine and X-ray all plates, and if we find any that are cracked, which is rare but occasionally it happens, we’ll immediately replace them so two weeks later when they come back, they pick up their body armor and go back (to Afghanistan). Most of them have no idea that we have even done that.”

If true, it would be useful if the US Army could let us know what percentage of ceramic plates were cracked.  I doubt we will get that information, or the percentage of plates that were actually tested by X-ray.    Col. Cole’s assertion  sounds more self-serving than standard operating procedure.

Indeed, the USMC has discovered that 5% of ceramic plates show cracks even before that are shipped to the field.  Let’s face it, the facts simply do not support the positive spin on body armor testing  from US Army sources.

Consider the following short-list chronology of publicly known problems in our military procurement process:

Body Armor Recall

Body Armor Plate Recalls

Congressional Inquiry into Body Armor and Vehicle Safety

GAO recommendations on Body Armor Testing

Broken Military Procurement Process

Congressional Inquiry into Defective Military Helmets and no-bid contract awards

Flaws in M2 and M4 endanger troops in Afghanistan

DODIG sites fault in spare parts for M2 in Afghanistan

In fact, we recently reported that shoddy test procedures of body armor go back many years as reported by Col. Jim MaGee, USMC (Ret.) who was the designer of the Interceptor Body Vest.

Nevertheless, Lt. Gen. Phillips seems not to be aware of the failure of ceramic plates in the field.  Perhaps, if he would order the release of DoD and US Army autopsy records requested by SFTT Editor Roger Charles under the Freedom of Information Act, we would finally learn the truth.  Does he really want to know?  Does he really care?  Or, what seems more likely, “Does he want the public to know?”

 

 

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PTSD: A Needs Assessment of New York State Veterans

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Editors  Terry L. Schell and Terri Tanielian  of the Rand Corporation have recently issued a Technical Report for the New York State Health Foundation which chronicles some of the mental health challenges faced by returning veterans in New York State.  “The study found substantial elevated rates of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and major depression among veterans. ”  The Technical Report to the New York State Health Foundation from the Rand Corporation may be read online (or downloaded).  A report  summary is provided below.

“Mental health disorders and other types of impairments resulting from deployment experiences are beginning to emerge, but fundamental gaps remain in our knowledge about the needs of veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan, the services available to meet those needs, and the experiences of veterans who have tried to use these services. The current study focuses directly on the veterans living in New York state; it includes veterans who currently use U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) services as well as those who do not; and it looks at needs across a broad range of domains. The authors collected information and advice from a series of qualitative interviews with veterans of Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF)/Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF) residing in New York, as well as their family members. In addition, they conducted a quantitative assessment of the needs of veterans and their spouses from a sample that is broadly representative of OEF/OIF veterans in New York state. Finally, they conducted a review the services currently available in New York state for veterans. The study found substantially elevated rates of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and major depression among veterans. It also found that both VA and non-VA services are critically important for addressing veterans’ needs, and that the health care systems that serve veterans are extremely complicated. Addressing veterans’ mental health needs will require a multipronged approach: reducing barriers to seeking treatment; improving the sustainment of, or adherence to, treatment; and improving the quality of the services being delivered. Finally, veterans have other serious needs besides mental health care and would benefit from a broad range of services.”

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The “Ugly Truth” of Body Armor Testing

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Designer of Interceptor Body Armor: The “Ugly” Truth About Army & Contractors Ignoring Stringent Test Requirements for Interceptor Body Armor

[Editor’s note: Col. Jim Magee, USMC (Ret.) noted our recent posting on the “reality testing” for body armor that has been substituted for required acceptance testing by contractors before they ship protective plates for issue to our troops. He provided the following additional insights on the scandalous situation that has been allowed to develop.]

The body armor testing violations cited in the DOD IG report is actually worse than it seems on the surface.

Once the procurement reached mass quantities (starting 2004+), Ceradyne and Armor Holdings (the largest suppliers of SAPI and ESAPI plates), and Point Blank Body (PBBA, the largest supplier of the Interceptor vests Kevlar/Spectra soft body armor) were probably allowed to submit a “certification” paper, for each Army contract, validating the stopping power of their armor products as “tested, met or exceeded required Army standards.”

Army procurement was arguably derelict in their duties on these contracts; then tried to cover up their dereliction; lied to Congress about it (HASC in 2008), and went after the organization that brought the fraud to light – Soldiers For The Truth (www.sftt.org). [Editor’s Note: now doing business as Stand For The Troops.]

As the designer of the Interceptor vest, and the President of PBBA through the first manufacturing contract, I know first hand that the Army’s standards during my tenure required:

 (1) each lot of soft armor roll (Kevlar and Spectra) is inspected before being cut; the soft armor vest, by lot, is shot to demonstrate it meets the standard (NIJ Level IIIA or greater). That test lot vest is to be retained with the test results. Given that over 2 million Interceptor vests were produced, that means there should be at least 50,000 lot tests fired and retained.

(2) each of the 4 million hard armor SAPI and ESAPI plates, by lot, were supposed to be similarly tested, with the test results submitted to the Army with the delivery of each lot, per order.

Due to the volume and urgency of the need to get these to the troops, the Army procurement personnel and the manufacturers apparently blew off these “test and document” requirements. I’ll bet that nothing happens to the manufacturers because the Army wants to save face and to have this issue buried (no pun intended).

Col. Jim Magee, USMC (Ret.)

 

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