- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 25, 2016

Most people who discover an item they have purchased is broken or faulty would return the item to the retailer and expect a full refund. Not Uncle Sam.

When it comes to seeking reimbursement of taxpayer dollars for defective equipment, the federal government seems not only content to flush cash down the drain but even to risk a fighter pilot losing oxygen midflight — from apathy about determining whether the military was still using these defective parts.

The Defense Logistics Agency’s Aviation branch, which oversees the acquisition of weapons, repair parts and other materials for the nation’s military aircraft, did not seek reimbursement for $12.3 million worth of defective spare parts it received from contractors, according to a new report from the Defense Department’s Inspector General.

DLA Aviation personnel not only failed to coordinate with contractors to seek reimbursement for parts deemed faulty or defective, but they also didn’t adequately determine from inventories whether defective parts were still being used, a potential threat to service members.

“In addition, defective parts were left unaccounted for in the DoD supply system, which negatively impacts warfighter readiness and safety,” the report says.

Spending watchdogs said the report is the latest example on a growing list of reasons why the Defense Department’s budget needs to be seriously reconsidered.

“Defense hawks demanded that the sequester budget agreement be broken because DoD needed to be plussed up. It is clear from this report that the culture of waste and disregard for the safety of our war fighters remains unabated among the procurement bureaucracy,” said Richard Manning, president of Americans for Limited Government.

“The fact that tightened budgets did not drive the Obama Pentagon to take basic steps to recoup these moneys is an indictment that needs to be remembered when DoD officials attempt to dig deeper into taxpayer wallets,” Mr. Manning added.

For spending millions of taxpayer dollars on spare parts for military aircraft and not seeking a refund when those parts turned out to be defective, wasting money and endangering military fighters, DLA Aviation wins this week’s Golden Hammer, a weekly distinction awarded by The Washington Times highlighting the most egregious examples of wasteful federal spending.

Curtis Kalin, a spokesman for Citizens Against Government Waste, also criticized DLA Aviation’s noneffort at reimbursement, saying “this sort of apathy would be unacceptable on the battlefield, and it should be unacceptable at the bureaucratic level.”

In its response to the report, the Defense Logistics Agency headquarters said it would develop a comprehensive plan to ensure that all parties involved in restitution are aware of their responsibilities and the actions they are expected to take.

The agency also said it would require the Aviation branch to develop a plan to identify “high-value, critical safety items and take prompt action to pursue appropriate restitution and take appropriate steps to ensure that related defective parts are removed from the DoD supply systems.”

DLA Aviation, headquartered in Richmond, Virginia, manages more than 1.1 million repair parts and operates supply systems for the military’s aircraft, including spare parts for engines on fighters, bombers, transports and helicopters; airframe and landing gear parts; flight safety equipment; and parts for propeller systems, according to the report.

Even some of the smallest parts that DLA Aviation supplies, if broken or faulty, could result in catastrophic damage. For example, inspectors reviewed a report of faulty tie-down straps that DLA sold for $1 each.

“Despite the low cost, these items were considered critical application items and were used to attach oxygen hoses to pilot’s helmets,” the report says.

An Air Force pilot identified the deficient tie-down straps after the ties broke and did not hold the oxygen hose to oxygen mask, “causing loss of oxygen to aircrew members during flight,” according to the report.

“Defective parts, particularly for aircraft, could pose a serious risk to warfighters. Depending on the part, it could pose a risk to safety of flight or lead to canceled or less effective missions. That is just simply unacceptable,” said Justin Johnson, a senior policy analyst for defense budgeting policy at The Heritage Foundation.

In another example, inspectors reviewed an investigation for three defective power cable assemblies that DLA sold for $4,090 each.

“An Air Force customer identified them as having an unauthorized splice that could cause a short circuit and potentially damage equipment or result in the loss of life,” the report says.

• Kellan Howell can be reached at khowell@washingtontimes.com.

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