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 Army.mil 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.

Military News you may have missed: Oct 23, 2010

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Goverment Approved Body Armor: Catch 22?

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A week ago, SFTT received a request from a concerned parent (whose son is expected to deploy shortly to Afghanistan) inquiring whether a service member is obligated to wear “US government approved” equipment or is free to use protective gear and combat equipment purchased from other  firms.

The question is in response to numerous reports from the field that suggest that “non-authorized” equipment may be confiscated and, in fact, life and heath insurance benefits may be forfeited if a  service member is wounded or killed wearing “non-approved” gear.   While SFTT has found no written evidence to indicate that this is a standing order, a recently-retired officer confirmed that he has always operated under the assumption that service members may only carry or wear “government approved” equipment.

This issue surfaced a few years ago when service members deploying to Iraq wished to wear Dragon Skin body armor rather than the “government approved” Interceptor Body Armor (IBA).    Specifically, reports circulated that military men and women would be required to pay for his or her own medical expenses and recovery costs for any wounds or injuries suffered while wearing unapproved or disallowed body armor.

Also,  more pervasive reports suggest that service members who sought to wear “non-authorized” body armor and protective gear were advised by Army officers that their Service Group Life Insurance (SGLI) would be denied if troops wearing Dragon Skin body armor were killed in combat.

On behalf of the parents of one of his constituents, Congressman Mike Ross of the Fourth District of Arkansas, wrote to the Secretary of Defense and the Secretary of the Army in August, 2007  inquiring into these allegations.  In a letter dated September 10, 2007 Mr. Pete Geren, the Secretary of the Army responded that the “Department of Defense and Department of the Army have no policy that denies medical or insurance benefits to soldiers injured or killed wearing unapproved body armor.”  Copies of these letters may be downloaded from the SFTT website.  Read Representative Mike Ross’s 2007 letter and Army Secretary Pete Geren’s response.

While one might think that Secretary Geren’s letter should have put an end to these rumors, he goes on to state in his letter that “every Soldier, regardless of rank, is required to use/wear U.S. government approved equipment, such as the Interceptor Body Armor (IBA) system.”

In effect, while there is no policy denying medical or death benefits to non-conforming service members it is simply not allowed to wear unauthorized or unapproved protective gear.  Call it Catch 22, Beltway Spin or the E-Ring two-step, but it seems to me that Secretary Geren’s response  is akin to saying  “it’s the Army way or the highway.”

Despite Secretary Geren’s strong endorsement of the Interceptor Body Armor system and insistence that “every Soldier . . . is required to use/wear U.S. government approved equipment” we know of many instances where “non-authorized” body armor is used by officers and enlisted personnel because they believe it provides better protection.  Furthermore, if the IBA system is so darn good, why did the GAO (“Government Accountability Office”)  issue a devastating report last fall which calls into question the Army test procedures and contract awards for body armor?  Similarly, why is the Defense Department fighting tooth-and-nail to withhold autopsy results which suggest that fatalities may have been caused by defective body armor plates?

Congressman Mike Ross has recently requested an updated position on this issue from the Department of Defense.  Personally, I believe that their response will be much the same.  For concerned parents and loved ones of men and women serving in combat, this summary of the government’s official position is hardly reassuring.

If you find the double-talk misleading and harmful write your Congressperson and State Senator and join hundreds of other SFTT Members searching for the Truth to make sure that our troops have the best body armor and protective gear possible.  Frankly, Secretary Geren’s endorsement of the IBA system is not compelling.

Richard W. May


Military News you may have missed – October 9, 2010

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Military News you may have missed – October 2, 2010

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  •  Court Tosses $35.2 Million *Body*-*Armor* Settlement

    October 2, 2010 – This sad story never seems to go away.

  •  BAE Develops ‘Three in One’ *Body Armor* | Kit Up!

    October 2, 2010 – When military contractors talk about “add-ons” and “customization” features I see extra costs. Is this a serious piece of protective gear or just a promotional piece?

  •  Is the *US Army* serious about replacing the M4? « Strike – Hold!

    October 2, 2010 – Good question. Despite its age and inadequacies, not sure there is the commitment to change.

  •  General Dynamics Awarded $25 Million by *U.S. Army* to Produce MK47 Weapon Systems

    October 2, 2010 – New grenade launcher.

  •  *Army* establishes *Army* Cyber Command

    October 2, 2010 – Not sure I understand the mission: ARCYBER’s mission is to plan, coordinate, integrate, synchronize, direct, and conduct network operations and defense of all Army networks. When directed, ARCYBER will conduct cyberspace operations in support of full spectrum operations to ensure U.S. and allied freedom of action in cyberspace, and to deny the same to adversaries.

    Does each military branch need their own cyber security?

  • Yemen as much a threat as *Afghanistan*, report says

    October 2, 2010 – This is certainly not good news.

  •  Gates says too few in US bear the burdens of *war*

    October 2, 2010 – Interesting perspective from Secretary Gates on attracting and retaining qualified officers for the military.

  • *War* veterans’ care to cost $1.3 trillion

    October 2, 2010 – The cost of committing US troops to combat has long term consequences that are often overlooked when determining whether the “costs” justify the intended security benefits.

  • Military thwarted president seeking choice in *Afghanistan*

    September 28, 2010 – Can’t wait to get a copy of Bob Woodward’s book. Not convinced the military brass sand-bagged the President. If you seek a “military solution” then it it probably best to consult our military leadership. If you are looking for a “diplomatic” or “political” solution, then it might be better to seek counsel from other sources. Most importantly, if you are seeking to determine whether American lives lost (and maimed) and the countless billions of dollars of scare resources are worth the hoped for military, diplomatic or political “solution,” then please seek counsel from history and trusted advisors and friends who put our country’s long-term well-being ahead of any particular agenda. In other words, don’t ask the pastry chef to give you menu options.


Military News you may have missed – September 25, 2010

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Military News you may have missed – September 20, 2010

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Military News you may have missed – September 11, 2010

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Military News you may have missed – September 8, 2010

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