Golden Hammer: Army wing office buy doesn’t fly for waste watchers

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Like paying for a car repair you don’t need, the Army dished out $8 million for helicopter parts it wasn’t going to use, the service’s own investigators say.

The Army’s Non-Standard Rotary Wing Aircraft office overhauled five Pakistani Mi-17 helicopters intended for use by the Afghan armed forces, but instead of using items already owned by the Defense Department, officials bought completely new parts.

Also, it turns out that the parts they did buy aren’t commonly used in repairs of the Russian-made aircraft, leaving the Pentagon with a pile of unnecessary helicopter parts and a couple of million dollars in wasted funds, the Defense Department inspector general said.

For shelling out taxpayer money to purchase unneeded helicopter parts, the U.S. Army’s Non-Standard Rotary Wing Aircraft office wins this week’s Golden Hammer, a distinction awarded by The Washington Times to examples of fiscal mismanagement and wasteful spending.

Army officials didn’t consider using the Defense Department’s existing inventory and bought $2.6 million in redundant parts, the inspector general said.

Although Army officials said they thought they performed a technical analysis to determine what parts were needed, investigators concluded that no such evaluation was conducted, so another $4.5 million was wasted on parts that weren’t going to be used for the helicopter overhauls.

The excessive purchases are the latest controversy surrounding the Non-Standard Rotary Wing Aircraft office, which oversaw the project and is in charge of dealing with helicopters not commonly used by the U.S. military. Defense Department officials say the program of purchasing and retrofitting the Russian-made helicopters is the most efficient way to supply the Afghan air force as the U.S. military prepares to leave the country by the end of next year.

Army officials said Thursday that they are still weighing their response to the inspector general’s findings.

“The Army is currently reviewing the findings and recommendations in the DOD IG’s report and will take appropriate action upon completion of this review,” spokeswoman Maureen Schumann said.

The Reuters news service reported last week that the former head of the office, Col. Norbert E. Vergez, is facing a criminal investigation by the inspector general’s defense criminal investigative service, which is looking into accusations that Col. Vergez tried to steer business to Russian companies to which he may have had personal ties. The retired colonel now works for a New York-based private equity firm whose investments include MD Helicopters, a military and civilian helicopter maker based in Mesa, Ariz.

Meanwhile, a bipartisan group of senators wants the Pentagon to reconsider its purchases and overhauls of Mi-17 helicopters, stating in an Aug. 5 letter that the Russian arms export company that sells the aircraft also supplies weapons to Syrian President Bashar Assad, a longtime Moscow ally.

DOD has put American taxpayers in the repugnant position of subsidizing the mass murder of Syrian civilians,” reads the letter sent from 13 senators to Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

As for the unneeded parts, investigators estimate the purchases cost the Army an extra $1.3 million above normal prices. The contracting official in charge of the purchases “did not determine a fair and reasonable price,” the inspector general said, adding that the official “did not require subcontractor competition, obtain cost and pricing data, or perform a price reasonableness determination or cost analysis.”

The inspector general said it wants a complete inventory of all Mi-17 parts now owned by the military, plus better training for the contracting official involved in the purchases. Inspectors also want the Army to find out how much of the misspent money it might be able to get back.

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