U.S. Navy loses track of weapons records; disconnects between computers blamed

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(Rear Adm. Keith Lippert, commander of Naval Supply Systems Command, says computer "disconnects" should be fixed by November, 2000. We were told before the rollover that our Navy was not fully y2k-compliant)

Navy Loses Track of Weapons Records

By John M. Donnelly

Associated Press Writer

Tuesday, Feb. 29, 2000; 6:13 p.m. EST

WASHINGTON  The Navy wrote off as "lost in transit" $3 billion in missile launchers, night vision goggles and other military equipment between 1995 and 1998, but in nearly every case reviewed by congressional investigators the shipments had actually been delivered.

The General Accounting Office, Congress' watchdog agency, said the Navy is exposing itself to "waste, fraud and abuse" because it is not accurately tracking shipments.

The issue is important, the report says, because secret equipment could fall into the wrong hands if the military's system for tracking inventories doesn't work. Moreover, a broken supply system may lead the services to buy more than they need, it says. The GAO did not do the audit work to prove such double-ordering happened, but no one knows that it didn't, the report adds.

"This lack of accountability could cause the inventory to become vulnerable to theft or loss and could cause managers to implement inefficient, ineffective decisions and practices regarding purchases that could lead to waste," the investigators said in a report issued in late February. Navy officials "acknowledged that it is possible that purchases could have been made as a result of items being written off," the report says. Rear Adm. Keith Lippert, commander of Naval Supply Systems Command, said in a statement that the problem is largely due to "disconnects" between financial- and material-management computers, problems he expects will be fixed by November.

The GAO reported the $1 billion per year in Navy losses to Congress a year ago. In a followup report, the agency disclosed that the majority of materials were in fact delivered as planned  but that the Navy didn't know it.

In almost every case examined, the Navy's supply command had not been notified whether a shipment had been received, though such notification is required by Navy regulations to confirm that weapons and other materials are not lost. But only when the Navy or the congressional investigators probed particular cases did anyone learn that delivery had occurred.

In addition to the GAO, the Pentagon's inspector general and the armed-forces' own audit agencies have repeatedly said the inability of the Navy, Army and Air Force to track their massive inventories puts the Pentagon at "high risk" for waste, fraud and abuse.

"The utter failure of the Navy's inventory system defies common sense," said Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, one of the members of Congress who requested the report. "Such incompetence in tracking inventory would lead to the termination of the head of any commercial business."

Last March, the GAO disclosed that, between 1995 and 1998, the Navy had written off $3 billion as lost between storage facilities such as depots and contractors' plants. The report published in February sought to find out what happened to the items.

The Navy's Lippert said the "vast majority of the material was not lost." He said the Navy is implementing "immediate systems connectivity improvements" and is reducing by 30 percent the amount that can be written off if it is not found past a certain deadline. For the long term, the Navy is "re-engineering the entire in-transit process."

The GAO credits the Navy with taking steps to address the problem but adds: "It is too early to assess the impact of these initiatives."

The Associated Press

Source: The Washington Post


-- Lee Maloney (leemaloney@hotmail.com), March 03, 2000

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