Chairman Towns Opens Inquiry into Quality of Troops’ Body Armor and Vehicle Safety

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In an important new development Edolphus “Ed” Towns (D-NY), Chairman of the Committee for Oversight and Government Reform asks  Defense Secretary Robert Gates for explanations about the management of the Department of Defense’s (“DoD”) troop armor procurement and testing programs.  What follows is a reprint of the release:

The inquiry follows a DoD Inspector General (“IG”) report issued recently that identified problems with the Army’s body and vehicle armor testing process.  Since the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq began, DOoD has consistently struggled to deploy safe and reliable body armor to troops on the front line, and the IG has issued several reports outlining the challenges to DOD’s armor procurement policies and potential solutions. Chairman Towns, an Army veteran, is committed to ensuring the safety of our troops.

“For almost a decade, our troops have sacrificed life and limb to defend our nation.  At the same time, DoD has repeatedly struggled to manage its programs and testing related to protective armor, including body armor,” said Chairman Towns.  “If we are going to continue sending troops into harms way, we must know that DoD is doing all it can to provide effective and save body armor and armored vehicles.”

A January 2009 DoD IG report identified problems with the U.S. Army’s testing processes. The IG found, among other things, that testing of some body armor was not consistently conducted in accordance with contract requirements—and that body armor that was recorded as having passed testing had actually failed. A separate review of body armor testing by the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) the Army did not follow established testing protocols, did not maintain certain internal controls, and recommended an independent assessment of armor test results.

The letter from Chairman Towns to Secretary Gates is the latest in a series of inquiries from the House Oversight Committee into Federal procurement and waste, fraud and abuse of taxpayer dollars.  In the letter to Gates, Chairman Towns requested that DoD brief the House Oversight Committee on the Department’s efforts to ensure that our troops have effective and safe body armor and armored vehicles, as expeditiously as possible.

Specifically, the Chairman requested an overview of key ongoing armored vehicle and body armor acquisition programs of the Services, including the Army’s Mine Resistant Ambush Protected Vehicle program (MRAP); contractors involved in the maintenance or procurement of body armor or armored vehicles; and field experience with the effectiveness of protective armor, including body armor, along with any analysis comparing experience in the field with the results of laboratory testing.

“I am aware that DoD has made some progress addressing past problems with the body and vehicle armor provided to our armed services,” said Chairman Towns.  “However, I want to make sure DoD’s progress continues.  There is nothing more important than providing our troops with the best protection possible.”

SFTT Editor Comment:  We applaud Chairman Towns, Congressman Jim Webb and other Congressional leaders for their perseverance in helping to insure that our troops have the best protective gear possible.  Nevertheless, it is  reprehensible that our military leaders have taken little action over the past several years to deal with the disturbing issues raised in the March, 2008 IG report and the October, 2009 GAO Study.  The unreliability of body armor presently issued to our troops, shoddy test procedures and cozy relationships between military “testers” and armament suppliers have been well documented. It is disgraceful and does not reflect well on our military leadership who are entrusted to field an army with the best combat gear possible.  By letting our troops down, we let our country down.

When will the “true” military leaders emerge to make sure our troops have the best protective gear possible?  Studies are useful, but concerted action now would save lives and prevent traumatic injury.    We implore Secretary Gates to clean up the mess in our military procurement process.  We realize that billions of dollars are at stake, but so are the lives of the young men and women serving in harm’s way.  Let’s get our priorities straight.

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Body Armor and the NASA Connection

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April 29, 2010

President Barack H. Obama II

The White House

1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW

Washington, DC 20500

President Barack H. Obama II:

Dear Mr. President,

I know what you’re thinking, it’s him again! Well, I’d like to say it wasn’t, however. The issue is Body Armor Design or should I say the lack of its advancement of lighter and better ballistics.

I have reached out many times to two Administrations of, Presidents, Senators, Congressmen and Military etc. and continue to hit a brick wall on the creation and establishment of one department within NASA. I believe this concept could be a straightforward one with the help of you, Mr. President, Secretary Robert M. Gates and Admiral Michael Mullen. With this partnership, you can make all of this happen.

Mr. President, you had once stated that “If someone has a better idea, I’m listening”. Well the concept is simple, to have NASA solely dedicated one department (assemble one) for the R&D of Body Armor, nothing more and nothing less than that. This would be their ONLY task to do at NASA and nothing else. It will not work by having meeting’s or studies with NASA, or forming committees on top of committees.

I will continue to reach out to you and your Administration on this issue. When you believe in something as strongly as I do, you press on no matter what, as you well know Mr. President. I realize you are a very busy man, and that there is never a good time for such a request. I feel that I must reach out for your help on my request. I’m hoping that you concur and push this forward. In closing, I am not a man of power or influence; however I’m a man of determination and conviction for all our troops.

I look forward to hearing from all of you, and thank you all for your time.

The probability that we may fail in the struggle ought not to deter us from the support of a cause we believe to be just.

Abraham Lincoln

16th president of US (1809 – 1865)

Sincerely,

Michael J. F. Bucca Sr.

Hanover, Massachusetts

“Veteran and Father of a proud Marine”

Editor’s Note: We appreciate Mr. Bucca for sharing his letter to President Obama with SFTT. His letter reflects the views of many concerned parents  whose sons and daughters are serving in harm’s way.  SFTT and its members and volunteers pledge ourselves to continue our campaigns to make sure our troops have the best protective gear and combat equipment available.

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