The Bunker, delivered to our subscribers Wednesdays at 7 a.m., is a newsletter from the desk of National Security Analyst Mark Thompson. Sign up here to receive it first thing, or check back Wednesday afternoon for the online version.
This week in The Bunker: a hat trick of bad news about new weapons, a persistent Pentagon bookkeeping nightmare, a toxic leader who oversaw U.S. military spending, and more.
0-FOR-3 THIS WEEK
LOUSY WEAPONS, BOOKKEEPING, AND LEADERS
Bad things come in threes, even in a five-sided building:
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There’s good and bad news associated with the Pentagon’s new annual testing report (PDF). On the plus side, it has done away with last year’s “controlled unclassified information” version. That volume, whose official readership was limited to lawmakers and Pentagon insiders, was used to deny taxpayers information about the weapons they’re buying. The bad news is that the newly-added weak sunshine — Pentagon veterans say it’s a pale version of pre-2020 reports — makes clear how fouled up U.S. weapons production remains.
A year ago, Raymond O’Toole, then-director of the Pentagon’s Operational Test and Evaluation (DOT&E) office, said that bad news about weapons under development “shouldn’t wind up in our adversaries’ hands.” Dan Grazier here at the Project On Government Oversight protested that the quasi-classification kept “meaningful details” about the tri-service F-35 fighter from the public (he was nonetheless able to snare a copy (PDF) of the F-35 chapter and share its grim tidings).
Now, a new director — and congressional criticism (PDF) — has led the Pentagon to declare: never mind. “Issuing two documents allowed DOT&E to be more transparent with congressional and DOD personnel, while maintaining the integrity of information related to programs under oversight,” Director Nickolas Guertin said (PDF) January 20. “This year, in consultation with Congress, we produced a single, publicly releasable report.” The 180 is a neat example of how a modicum of congressional interest can spin the Pentagon like a top — claims of national security be damned.
The 412-page blunderbuss lobs plenty of broadsides at poor weapons development. “Highlights” include:
"The F-35 program continues to field immature, deficient, and insufficiently tested … software to fielded units,” the report finds (PDF). “The program has consistently failed to deliver the full set of capabilities contained in their master schedule.” New F-35 deficiencies “include those associated with new capabilities as well as some associated with previously functioning capabilities that no longer work.”
The Navy’s $24 billion fleet of three Zumwalt DDG 1000 destroyers continues to founder, more than six years after delivery of the first ship. “Not enough data are yet available to provide a preliminary assessment of DDG 1000 operational effectiveness,” the report says (PDF). “Not enough data are yet available to provide a preliminary assessment of Zumwalt-class operational suitability … data are insufficient to assess Zumwalt-class survivability against threat weapons.”
The Army’s Individual Visual Augmentation System (IVAS) — intended to turn troops into eagle-eyed killing machines — left most soldiers reporting “at least one symptom of physical impairment [including] disorientation, dizziness, eyestrain, headaches, motion sickness and nausea, neck strain and tunnel vision,” the test report says (PDF). “Soldiers cited IVAS 1.0’s poor low-light performance, display quality, cumbersomeness, poor reliability, inability to distinguish friend from foe, difficulty shooting, physical impairments and limited peripheral vision as reasons for their dissatisfaction.”
(“Other than that, Mrs. Lincoln, how did you like the war?”)
Lousy bookkeeping plays a role in lousy weapons:
The Pentagon can’t keep track of what it owns, and who has it. Yes, this is the really boring stuff that makes the eyes of even long-time defense nerds glaze over. But it’s critical because it’s sloppy bookkeeping that contributes to inefficient procurement and increases risk for young Americans sent into combat. It’s why the Pentagon can’t pass an audit, and why taxpayers are getting fleeced.
The Pentagon owns $3.2 trillion worth of stuff, two-thirds of that possessed by the entire federal government. Much of the Defense Department’s share is weapons parts held by contractors. A new report from the Government Accountability Office says the Pentagon doesn’t know where “over $220 billion” of its contractor-controlled stuff is — an estimate “likely significantly understated” given that it is nine years old. “We found that DOD doesn’t have a comprehensive, department-wide strategy to address this issue,” the GAO said when summarizing its January 17 report, which noted that auditors have been complaining about the issue since 1981.
The report highlights rampant confusion among the Pentagon’s Big Spenders: acquisition, logistics, and financial management. “We found that one military department submitted templates that were entirely blank for its first data submission,” the GAO said.
The Pentagon even created a Property Functional Council (love those military wordsmiths!) in 2018 to track down the components. But it has failed to account for such “Government Furnished Property,” the GAO said, because of “(1) an inefficient and incomplete initial memorandum distribution process, (2) confusion among department officials over memorandum terminology, (3) components’ logistical struggles to identify and provide requested data, and (4) a lack of effective management review of the components' progress.”
The report’s tone echoes the DOT&E tome, a never-ending roster of screw-ups, slipups, and snafus. As you plow through it, it becomes clear that the various Pentagon departments buying stuff aren’t that different from a local bluegrass band, the New York Philharmonic, an aging opera star, a jazz trio, the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, and the Eagles being thrown together — without a conductor — and simply told to make beautiful music together.
The Pentagon has been unable to fix the problem, the GAO reported, “because it relies too heavily on its contractors to maintain inventory records on its behalf.”
(“Other than that, Mrs. Chicken, how did you enjoy the Fox?”)
Lousy bosses beget bad bookkeeping:
Those accounting problems occurred in part while Douglas Glenn was serving at the highest ranks in the Pentagon’s comptroller office, including four months in 2021 when he was the Defense Department’s top money man. He might not be the guy you want in charge.
“We concluded that Mr. Glenn engaged in an overall course of conduct that failed to treat subordinates with dignity and respect by making sexually suggestive and racially insensitive comments in the workplace,” the Pentagon inspector general reported January 17 (PDF), “resulting in the creation of an offensive work environment for his subordinates.”
The IG also said Glenn violated Defense Department regulations by serving alcohol in his Pentagon office. Whether the Pentagon’s lousy bookkeeping was what drove him to drink wasn’t made clear. Glenn left the Pentagon in November 2021 and now is the chief financial officer at the federal Office of Personnel Management, responsible for managing the 2.1 million employees of the U.S. government.
WHAT WE’RE READING
Here’s what has caught The Bunker’s eye recently
Afghan troops trained by U.S. Green Berets to fight the Taliban have been recruited by Russia and are now fighting Ukrainians, Thomas Kasza wrote January 24 in the New York Times.
“The defense industry has become a permanent, in fact defining feature of the U.S. economy,” Loren Thompson wrote January 18 at Forbes.
A trade group representing more than 300 defense contractors warns Congress against imposing budget caps that could cut military spending, Marcus Weisgerber reported January 19 at Defense One
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