Pentagon audit questions Army contracting

April 2, 2008 6:34:56 PM PDT
The Army can't be sure some of its body armor met safety standards, partly because it didn't do proper paperwork on initial testing of the protective vests, a Defense Department audit said.

Democratic Rep. Louise M. Slaughter of New York, who requested the department inspector general's report, on Wednesday demanded the firing of officials responsible. But the Army said the gear is safe and the issue is a disagreement over when and what type of testing is required - principally so-called "first article testing" typically done on a product before a contract is awarded.

The inspector general reviewed $5.2 billion worth of Army and Marine Corps contracts for body armor from 2004 through 2006.

"Specific information concerning testing and approval of first articles was not included in 13 of 28 Army contracts and orders reviewed, and contracting files were not maintained in 11 of 28 Army contracts to show why procurement decisions were made," the report concluded.

"As a result, DoD has no assurance that first articles produced under 13 of the 28 contracts and orders reviewed met the required standards," or that 11 of the 28 contracts were awarded based on informed decisions, it said.

"This report indicates that nearly half of the Army's contractors did not perform the most basic test on the body armor before it was sent to our troops fighting overseas," Slaughter said. "During a time of war, it's shameful that the Army would not scrupulously ensure that every piece of equipment is properly tested, especially a fundamentally life-and-death product such as body armor."

The Army said the vests are of excellent quality, consistently tested and meet contract requirements.

"Since its initial fielding in 1999, the ... body armor has demonstrated superior combat performance in Kosovo, Afghanistan, and Iraq," said Lt. Col. Martin Downie, an Army spokesman. "Many soldiers are alive today because of it."

Downie said the fact that the inspector general was not completely able to verify testing or aspects of contracting documentation doesn't mean the armor failed specifications.

Democratic Sens. Hillary Clinton of New York and Jim Webb of Virginia said Wednesday that the report "underscores the need" for rapid completion of the Government Accountability Office's current investigation into the effectiveness and reliability of body armor systems. Clinton and Webb, both members of the Senate Arm Services Committee, called for the GAO investigation last spring.

The senators said the GAO review should include: A comparison and testing of body armor systems to determine if troops are currently issued the best available equipment and a determination of the necessary steps required to obtain and field the best body armor systems.