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Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Navy's anti-terrorism boat barrier situation


In the "What were they thinking?" category: Millions lost on Navy boat barriers:
After the Cole bombing, the Navy decided it would deploy hundreds of 82-foot-long, 8-foot-wide, floating rubberized barriers to prevent terrorists from getting close to its ships while in port. The barriers would be held in place by a system of anchors, large foam buoys and chains. A network of underwater sensors would detect potential threats.

NCIS had preferred contractors it wanted to hire for the job, auditors would find, and it did not want to undertake an elaborate and time-consuming open competition for the work.
The result:
"Millions of taxpayer dollars went out the window, given to companies who did nothing in return," said Eugene L. Waszily, a former deputy GSA inspector general who reviewed spending under the boat-barrier contract. "This was particularly disturbing because it was a national security project."

Another problem emerged for the project, which cost at least $100 million. "Navy officials advised us that the barriers were prone to leaks, can deflate completely, and that defects caused barrier gates to remain open," the GSA auditors said in a 2004 report.

Eventually, NCIS investigated its own contract. NCIS officials said the GSA had "responsibility for ensuring that contracts are properly awarded and executed." An NCIS spokesman declined to elaborate or discuss the allegations, saying "there is a joint, ongoing criminal investigation into this matter."
I can tell you exactly what they were thinking- "Get some sort of barrier in place as fast as you can- and let the red tape catch up later." In fact, the Post even quotes the guy who was in charge saying exactly that:
Working under intense pressure, Condon earned his money by traveling the world on the project's behalf, Krieger said. Condon spent his own money on the project and is owed more than $200,000 by the government.

"This was a crash program to get this thing in place," Krieger said. "This was a fire drill when this was happening. The chief of naval operations said, 'This is never going to happen again.' "
Looks like this is spread over a couple of administrations.

However, the idea of paying a company to manage a project is not unusual- it's exactly what a general contractor does in a construction job- hiring and managing subcontractors to do much, if not all of the actual work. I'm sure someone can assert that the GC is getting his money for "nothing" since building framing is being handled by one company and concrete pouring by another.

I'm sure the Washington Post must have, on occasion, used such general contractors itself.

If the scandal is that it may have cost more and not every "i" was dotted or "t" crossed, then let the investigation roll on. If the barriers don't work or won't stop a small terrorist boat, then that's another issue. But if the goal was to get something in place as soon as possible, and that was done, then sometimes a little more expense might be justified. And having circumvented a few "red tape rules" shouldn't be that big a deal.

Maybe the real story ought to be that the Navy didn't have such barrier systems in place before the Cole attack. You know, fully vetted and contracted up to GSA standards in anticipation of the possibility of such an attack. And not that the moored, sensor laden system described in the article would have done the Cole much good anyway, off in a foreign port for a short fuel stop.

But now, some Congressional yahoo is making noise because of what he read in the WaPo:
U.S. Congressman Gene Taylor, Chairman of the Seapower and Expeditionary Forces Subcommittee, informed the United States Navy that he will hold a hearing to investigate alleged problems and potential wrongdoing in the procurement of Navy boat barriers. "Today's front-page Washington Post story suggesting widespread waste, disregard of federal procurement rules and possible wrongdoing in the Navy's purchase of ship force protection barriers presents a shocking picture of abuse," said Taylor. "This demands greater Congressional oversight."
Mr. Taylor is a Democrat from Mississippi with experience in the Coast Guard Reserve.


UPDATE: Some info on inflatable anti-boat barriers from Dunlop here. Photo is from that site. Other barriers identified here, here and here. A more complete description of Whisprwave system here. Orange and white photo from that site.

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