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


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.


Quibbling Officials defend broken Military Procurement Process

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On the Army’s effectiveness testing of body armor for the troops, a 2009 GAO report concluded: “Overall reliability and repeatability of the test results are uncertain.” To that, Army Brig. Gen. Peter N. Fuller, Program Executive Officer of the Soldier Systems Center at Ft. Belvoir said:

“The challenge we are having with this GAO audit report is they are challenging our processes, and I think what we are really identifying is we have had an evolution of processes and we need to better articulate what we are doing there.”

He has insulted men of valor and action with empty words.

BG Fuller said that despite the GAO finding irregularities in body armor testing, “We have the best body armor by far.” He added that he appreciated the GAO because it helped the Army insure that the troops get the “very best.”

Without responding to the GAO report’s findings, Gen. Fuller had preemptively framed the issue as a failure to communicate, not a real problem with testing.

Then he asserted that the body armor was the best.

Were that true, why would the House Armed Services Committee have published these words in its 2010 FY National Defense Authorization Act Summary?

Body Armor

The committee requires DOD to establish specific budget line items within the procurement and research, development, test and evaluation (RDT&E) accounts for body armor. This will improve accountability and increase transparency into long-term investment strategies as well as facilitate the advancement of lighter-weight technologies. Additionally, the committee strongly encourages the standardization of the requirements and test and evaluation processes for body armor. (p. 24)

The Committee’s directive clearly implied that accountability and transparency in body armor testing, in evaluation, and in contracting fail to meet appropriate standards.

Now read this gem in the same report, which really hits home considering the above statement of the House’s expectation that Gen. Fuller act, not just speak on the issue:

Prohibition Relating to Propaganda

The committee prohibits DOD from engaging in propaganda activities except as otherwise authorized by law. The term “propaganda” includes materials such as editorials or other articles prepared by an agency or its contractors at the behest of the agency and circulated as the position of parties outside the agency. (p. 46).

The prohibition could include assertions of unverified facts about body armor safety made by Brig. Gen. Fuller on that appear to agree with proprietary claims of existing body armor contractors. Such statements raise serious questions about the objectivity of the testing processes.

The Soldier Center took another hit for failing to insure quality control on the testing of helmets, according to a CNN report in May. The Department of Justice had to inform the Pentagon that Armor Source, LLC, the helmet contractor, was under investigation for violating standards for making helmets withstand ballistics. In an Army ballistics re-test of the helmets, the helmets failed and 44,000 were recalled.

But, it was another recent example of poor Pentagon oversight of its suppliers that caused me to review the body armor and helmet procurement problems. While reviewing press on the rare earth element and trade imbroglio heating up between China and the West this week, I found a classic quote about the Pentagon’s procurement awareness. Christine Parthemore, fellow at the Center for a New American Security, told the Washington Independent’s Andrew Restuccia, “In defense equipment, because stuff is manufactured by the private sector, and [the private sector] is not involved in the end-use of these products. … There’s sort of a detachment of information that happens..”

Parthemore was explaining that the US military had “very little sense” of its own dependence on rare earth minerals used in its most sensitive smart weapons, guidance and communications systems because the metals’ usage is proprietary information.

Considering the context, a Chinese monopoly on magnetic components that help provide the “shock & awe” for which the US military is renowned, Parthemore’s observation suggests that the Pentagon will sacrifice national security to protect corporate privacy, even if the corporations are state-owned Chinese firms or their agents!!!

In response, the 2010 Pentagon scratches its collective head and effectively says, ‘We didn’t know that was a national security issue; let’s study our dependence on rare earths.’ This is despite Deng Xiaopeng’s famous boast that China would use its leverage in rare earths against the West’s domination in oil.

Rare metal supply is a troop safety issue too, since magnets manufactured from rare earths make bombs smart enough to miss friendly forces during air support to ground troops.

Is there really a ‘detachment of information’ because the Pentagon wants to honor the proprietary secrets of its contractors? Or is there collusion with contractors to keep proprietary vulnerabilities a secret? Such facts beg for DOJ probes into possible illegal influences between procurement officials and contractors. Perhaps these security problems may be deterred in the future by putting dishonest and corrupt officials in jail.

Michael Woodson
Contributing Editor
Note from SFTT Editor:  SFTT is thankful to the vigilant Michael Woodson for bringing this information to our attention. The GAO and other other investigative bodies have unearthed many examples of flawed test procedures and an unhealthy relationship between private contractors and military officials responsible for the procurement of protective gear and combat equipment for our troops.  It is patently clear to all who have followed this bizarre and incomprehensible display of Beltway spin that the “Emperor has no clothes!”  When will there be sufficient public outrage to bring this seriously flawed and possibly corrupt military procurement process and incestuous relationship between procurment officials and their suppliers to an end.  Support SFTT and help to bring light to the shoddy and shady processes that appear so ingrained in our military procurement system. The lives of our brave young men and women who serve in harm’s way may very well depend on it.