Report says soldiers put at risk
WASHINGTON – The Defense Department put U.S. troops in Iraq at risk by awarding contracts for badly needed armored vehicles to companies that failed to deliver them on time, according to a review by the Pentagon’s inspector general.The June 27 report, obtained Wednesday by The Associated Press, examined 15 contracts worth $2.2 billion awarded since 2000 to Force Protection Inc. and Armor Holdings Inc.The contracts were issued without the normal competition for government work because the military determined these companies were the only ones capable of supplying the vehicles fast enough to meet the demands of deployed troops.Yet the inspector general’s report concluded otherwise.Overall, Force Protection of Ladson, S.C., received 11 contracts from the Army and Marine Corps worth $417 million for a variety of vehicles, including its Buffalo and Cougar mine-resistant trucks.Force Protection failed to meet all delivery schedules, according to the report, and acquisition officials knew there were other manufacturers that might have supplied some of the vehicles in a more timely fashion. The report does not provide the names of those possible alternative sources.Mike Aldrich, a Force Protection vice president, acknowledged the delays and said the problems were caused by an inability to get essential manufacturing materials.The company’s production and delivery schedules have improved greatly in recent months, Aldrich added, noting that 100 of the Buffalo vehicles have been delivered.”Government reports are largely written by lawyers and look intimidating when you pick them up,” Aldrich said. “But our vehicles perform well in theater and have saved the lives of troops.”The inspector general’s report agreed that Force Protection’s vehicles have been of substantial value since they arrived.The report, not yet publicly released, also criticizes the Army’s award of a $266 million contract for crew protection kits to Simula Aerospace and Defense Group, a subsidiary of Armor Holdings of Jacksonville, Fla.Simula lacked the internal controls necessary to ensure delivery of the kits, which were needed to make military vehicles less vulnerable to roadside bombs and small-arms fire, according to the report.The Army received kits “with missing and unusable components, which increased installation time and required additional reinspection of kits,” according to the report.In describing the scope of the problem, the report said that some of the Simula kits delivered to the troops had two left doors, were missing side plates and contained brackets that needed re-welding.Overall, the problems “resulted in increased risk to the lives of soldiers,” the report states.Armor Holdings received three other contracts worth $1.5 billion for armored Humvees and armor kits to strengthen older-model vehicles.Spokesman Michael Fox said the company had not seen the report and had no immediate comment.The review was requested by Rep. Louise Slaughter, D-N.Y., in April 2006, after she learned the Pentagon was relying on just a few small companies to supply bomb-resistant vehicles to troops in Iraq.With improvised explosive devices accounting for the majority of combat deaths and injuries, Slaughter said that strategy needed to be examined.”It’s been business as usual,” Slaughter said Wednesday after reviewing the report. “The lives of our soldiers took a back seat to who got the contracts.”Slaughter said the report raises more questions than answers and that she wants to know if the awards were the result of “influence peddling or insider connections.”In written comments to the inspector general, the Marine Corps defended its acquisition decisions for the vehicles.The armored vehicle contracts “were executed within the law, spirit and intent of the current acquisition rules and regulations,” according the comments.In separate written comments, the Army did not object to the report’s findings.