Reporter Joseph Neff, of the The News & Observer of Raleigh in North carolina has a fine bit of work today on what looks suspiciously like corruption and coverup in the procurement of a Marine vehicle, part of the ill-fated Osprey program.
When the Marines shipped their V-22 Osprey aircraft to Iraq last year, they had to leave behind the assault vehicles and mobile mortar system that fit inside the planes. The Marines' new mortar system can't safely carry its ammunition.The guy who designed the other vehicle - the cheaper and better one - has alleged that trails were continually fudged to let the Growler stay in the running. The Marine Corps investigation, which exonerated procurers, has now been superseded by the DoD investigation.
That conclusion, from a government audit, is the most recent bad news for the Marines' attempt to ferry firepower inside the Osprey. The Defense Department inspector general is investigating the program, which is two years behind schedule and $15 million over budget.
The system consists of a jeeplike vehicle called the Growler that pulls trailers carrying mortars and ammunition.
The Growler, made in Robbins, N.C., costs $127,000 each and cannot safely pull its ammunition trailer, according to interviews and the report from the Government Accountability Office. The trailer has a tendency to bounce or tip over, which could crush a Marine riding in the back of the Growler. A Growler, not pulling a trailer, was reported to have tipped over last summer when it swerved to avoid a turtle in the road.
...In soliciting bids in 2004, the Marines announced they had "an aggressive schedule."
In November 2004, the Marines awarded the contract to General Dynamics, which produced the mortar system. The defense giant uses a company in Robbins, Carolina Growler, to build a modified dune buggy with a design that recalls Vietnam-era jeeps.
Gov. Mike Easley awarded Carolina Growler a $25,000 grant, and U.S. Rep. Howard Coble helped get a $300,000 grant and a $112,000 loan for the company from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
The contract award was controversial because the founder of Carolina Growler, Terry Crews, is a retired Marine colonel with strong connections. The Defense Department received an anonymous complaint claiming that Crews was a close friend of Brig. Gen. William Catto, who headed the agency that awarded the contract, Marine Corps Systems Command in Quantico, Va.
The complainant, who identified himself as a career procurement professional, said Catto steered the contract to Carolina Growler and General Dynamics.
After demonstrations from three companies, the selection committee recommended the contract go to a team of United Defense, which supplied the mortar, and Rae-Beck Automotive of Michigan, which built a new vehicle from scratch. According to the complaint, the United Defense bid was technically superior and cost less, while the Growler flunked crucial tests and was coupled to a much more expensive mortar system.
The Marine Corps inspector general corroborated much of the complaint but concluded that Catto did not influence the contract award or create a sense of impropriety. Its investigation was separate from the Defense Department's investigation, which is continuing. Catto, who has been promoted to the U.S. European Command, could not be reached. Crews declined to be interviewed.
And I should note that this might just be a case of bi-partisan pork too. Of the NC lawmakers who pushed for grants for the Growler, Gov. Greasley is a Dem and Rep Hoble is Republican.