Last Wednesday night, CBS Evening News featured the Sea-Based X-band Radar (SBX) platform which soon will make its way from Hawaii to the waters off of Adak, Alaska, its eventual home port. In addition to the SBX-1 Operational Suitability and Viability Assessment (pdf) which we first leaked to the Chicago Tribune over the summer, POGO provided CBS with new internal documents and information for its story. As CBS reported:
The price tag is at $1 billion and counting. This raises the billion-dollar question: Can the SBX not only detect a hostile threat, but do it in the Bering Sea, home to some of the most unforgiving weather in the world?
"All that electronics is out in the middle of the ocean, and salt water and waves and bad weather and all, and electronics don't go well together," [Phillip] Coyle [senior advisor at the Center for Defense Information] says.
In March, an independent study obtained by the Project On Government Oversight called the SBX "rugged and suitable" for the mission, but cited a letter in which the Alaska Coast Guard command called the waters "inherently dangerous."
CBS News also obtained an internal document in which lead contractor Boeing asserts "ice accumulation could ... induce enough damage to the rigging to cause it to fall."
An internal Coast Guard communication, dated just last month, depicts a sense of anxiety about the project, warning of the "land mine potential" of any interview that questions "the system's suitability for operating in Alaska waters."
In sum, POGO has no doubt that the SBX has a superb radar and that the platform the radar sits on is fairly robust. We just wonder if the parts add up to a whole that Americans can depend on in the bleak environment of the north Pacific. Based on the government documents we've obtained, it seems that many in the government have the same question. For example, see the Missile Defense Agency's response to a letter from the U.S. Coast Guard earlier this year (pdf).
A recent piece in the Wall Street Journal, entitled, "A Radar Unit's Journey Reflects Hopes, Snafus In Missile Defense," recounts Sen. Ted Steven's skepticism about the ability of the SBX to perform in the treacherous waters off of Alaska:
Republican Sen. Ted Stevens of Alaska, a staunch advocate of missile defense, nevertheless questioned the wisdom of having such a valuable sensor floating in the treacherous North Pacific. "I hope your people are nautical enough to know what you're doing," he told Air Force Lt. Gen. Ronald Kadish, then Missile Defense Agency director, at a Senate hearing. The general replied that he had reviewed a century's worth of local wave patterns and had confidence in SBX's naval architects and Boeing.
Previously, the U.S. government planned to build the powerful X-Band Radar on Alaska's Shemya Island, where early warning radars already exist. Besides the fewer environmental problems, the land-based option had other advantages. As Lisbeth Gronlund, David Wright, George Lewis and Phil Coyle explain (pdf):
The SBX is smaller than the previously planned Shemya XBR. According to an MDA report, the SBX will have only 50â65 percent as many transmit/receive modules as the planned Shemya XBR, and a correspondingly reduced aperture, reducing detection range to 4,800 km (for the 65 percent populated SBX) rather than the XBRâs 6,700 km (MDA 2002, p. v). This reduction may not be significant, since a detection range of 4,500 km corresponds to a radar horizon altitude of about 1,500 km, which is roughly the maximum altitude of a long-range missile. However, the specified detection range is against a target with an RCS that is not publicly known. If the actual RCS is less than this value (for example, if stealth is used as a countermeasure), than the larger power and aperture of the XBR relative to the SBX might have been useful. In addition, the larger aperture and power of the XBR relative to the SBX will give it a higher signal/noise ratio against a specific target at any given range, and a narrower beam providing somewhat better tracking, resolution, and decoy discrimination capability. However, these differences are not large, and for the purposes of roughly estimating the capabilities of these systems, it appears reasonable to assume that the somewhat smaller size of the SBX relative to the XBR is not a significant issue. Other factors may be of more significance.
More importantly, since the SBX is viewed as a test asset, it has a number of serious deficiencies when viewed from the perspective of an operational system (MDA 2002). Unlike the planned Shemya XBR it does not have dual redundant electronics, so it is less reliable. Unlike the planned Shemya XBR, it will not be hardened against the electromagnetic pulse from a high altitude nuclear explosion. And it does not have the fiber optic cable connection that was planned to give the XBR secure communications.
POGO has heard that Lt. Gen. Henry Obering, director of the Missile Defense Agency, approved the SBX for its winter shakedown departure yesterday afternoon.
-- Nick Schwellenbach
Since the November elections, the hot topic around Washington D.C. has been oversight of government contracts. Many new congressional committee chairs, the Government Accountability Office (GAO), industry associations, and watchdogs are either anticipating or dreading the new Congress’s pending oversight efforts.
Late last night, the 1423 Panel – a group of contracting experts established by Rep. Tom Davis (R-VA) to study how well the federal government is buying services – released its “Draft Final Report” (pdf). After sitting through nearly all of the Panel’s 30-some meetings and assisting the Panel in its mission (pdf), I’m looking forward to reading the 421-page study to see the Panel’s take on how well the government is spending $380 billion each year, or at least the $220 billion spent on government services (pdf). (Side note – the Panel’s meeting were publicized in the Federal Register, open to the public, and the Panel’s web site includes meeting materials and minutes, so there may not be too many surprises.)
It is clear that Rep. Davis’s Panel hasn’t merely rubber-stamped the many acquisition reforms that the Congressman has passed over the years. And with Rep. Waxman (D-CA) – one of the few Members of Congress who has pushed for genuine oversight on Capitol Hill – ready to take over the House Committee on Government Reform, Davis has provided Waxman and taxpayers with a great holiday present. If the new Congress is honest about its call for contract oversight, this is the car with the giant big red bow of which it has been waiting.
Although POGO would have liked to see the Panel go even further in many of its recommendations, we think that the Panel has opened the door for Congress to improve how the feds spend our money. Additionally, the Panel has provided a level of satisfaction to those of us who have been pointing out that, at times, the system fails to protect American taxpayers.
-- Scott Amey
Tom Delay was the intended recipient of a $250 box of Godiva chocolates, one of the gifts lobbyist Jack Abramoff prepared to give for the holidays in 2001. Jeff Smith of the Washington Post reports on that and many other gifts that were either "forgotten" or deemed of "negligible value" by Representatives and their staff who received them. His article does suggest that the rules for gifts to members of Congress ($50 or less) may be regularly flouted or simply ignored. This week, House Majority Speaker-elect Nancy Pelosi promised to ban lobbyist gifts and meals.
-- Beth Daley
Oil companies must have seen the writing on the wall. House Speaker-elect Nancy Pelosi and other leading Democrats have publicly promised to pass legislation forcing Big Oil to pay up on federal leases in the Gulf of Mexico where they have been getting a free ride thanks to a mysterious foul up on contracts signed in 1998-99. Just today Pelosi talked about it at her press conference:
Q Madam Speaker-elect, you talked a lot about rolling back subsidies for Big Oil. Have you decided which subsidies you are going to roll back, and how much money is involved?
Ms. Pelosi. The biggest money maker there would be, as I said -- what we will do is roll back the subsidies to Big Oil and use the resources to invest in a reserve for research and alternative energy.
Q A lot of subsidies; have you decided?
Ms. Pelosi. Democrats believe, and we think that we can get some Republican support for the idea, and it has is passed this House; it came out of the Resources Committee, passed on the Floor of the House, that when oil reaches $40 a barrel, that that oil company should be paying a royalty to the federal government. That has again passed this House two times. That is one of the initiatives that brings tens of billions of dollars to the Congress. So that is the most, shall we say, useful to us in terms of the money that it produces. There are a couple others as well but that is the biggest one.
Today, nine months after the screw up on offshore leases was first revealed, the Department of Interior announced that it had reached agreements with some of oil companies. According to congressional staff, these companies represent only 17 percent of the 1998-99 leases in question. The announcement, though, was noticeably lacking in details, although it notes that the companies will start paying royalties on October 1, 2006. Representative Edward Markey, who has helped lead the charge on collecting the drilling fees, rained on the parade with his press release today revealing that the Department of Interior Inspector General has made two criminal referrals. POGO sources say that one of those referrals involves Interior’s royalty in kind program, a program much-beloved by the oil industry which has dramatically expanded under the Bush Administration. Today’s agreements are just the tip of the iceberg of billions of dollars the Department of Interior is allowing Big Oil to take out of the taxpayers’ and Native Americans’ pocket.
Still, Interior seems rather inert. In response to the findings of a scathing report released by the DOI Inspector General last week, the Minerals Management Service of Interior seemed unwilling to attempt to improve its tracking of oil and gas fee collections. Now they will have to answer for that to House Resources Committee Chair Nick Rahall who has pledged (pdf) to make oil and gas royalty collections one of two top oversight priorities for his committee and others.
-- Beth Daley
Few people know Joe Darby by name, but you can bet millions of Americans know the results of what he did. Darby is the whistleblower who came forward about the Abu Ghraib atrocities and gave authorities the pictures of U.S. soldiers abusing Iraqi prisoners.
This Sunday (Dec. 10) in a segment titled “Exposing the Truth,” 60 MINUTES will run a piece on Joe Darby, the Army reserve soldier from Appalachia who ended up exposing what became one of the biggest news stories of the Iraq war. Darby will tell his story to Anderson Cooper on this week’s 60 MINUTES (Sunday, Dec. 10, 7PM ET/PT on CBS).
-- Jennifer Gore
Want to know how bad things are in Iraq? Don't go the Pentagon for the whole story (as if you didn't know that already). From the section on Intelligence in the Iraq Study Group's report (pdf):
In addition, there is significant underreporting of the violence in Iraq. The standard for
recording attacks acts as a filter to keep events out of reports and databases. A murder of an Iraqi is not necessarily counted as an attack. If we cannot determine the source of a sectarian attack, that assault does not make it into the database. A roadside bomb or a rocket or mortar attack that doesn’t hurt U.S. personnel doesn’t count. For example, on one day in July 2006 there were 93 attacks or significant acts of violence reported. Yet a careful review of the reports for that single day brought to light 1,100 acts of violence. Good policy is difficult to make when information is systematically collected in a way that minimizes its discrepancy with policy goals.
...confirmed a Sept. 8 McClatchy Newspapers report that U.S. officials excluded scores of people killed in car bombings and mortar attacks from tabulations measuring the results of a drive to reduce violence in Baghdad.
By excluding that data, U.S. officials were able to boast that deaths from sectarian violence in the Iraqi capital had declined by more than 52 percent between July and August, McClatchy newspapers reported.
-- Nick Schwellenbach
Three Cheers to Representative Carolyn Maloney (D-New York) for her legislation introduced today which would commission a technical study of how the government collects gas drilling payments. An industry whistleblower with a major pending False Claims Act lawsuit, Jack Grynberg, brought many concerns to light about how oil companies may be cheating the taxpayer and Indians. Maloney’s bill would put experts on the case to figure out whether those concerns are still a problem on federal and Native American leases. Maloney’s investigations and oversight in the late 1990’s helped bring oil royalty underpayments to light.
-- Beth Daley
Wow. The magnitude of public corruption uncovered by the FBI so far is astounding. Part of FBI Director Robert Mueller's prepared statement before the Senate Judiciary Committee:
Public corruption is a betrayal of the public’s sacred trust. It erodes public confidence and undermines the strength of our democracy. Unchecked, it threatens our government and our way of life. That is why it is our top criminal investigative priority.
Over the last two years, the FBI has convicted more than 1,060 government employees involved in corrupt activities, to include 177 federal officials, 158 state officials, 360 local officials, and more than 365 police officers. In FY 2005 alone, the Public Corruption Program saw a 25% increase in public corruption cases investigated, resulting in 890 indictments, 759 convictions, and 2,118 cases still pending. There are 622 agents currently working public corruption matters, an increase of 264 since 2002.
-- Nick Schwellenbach
Mark Corallo, formerly with the House Government Reform Committee, and Barbara Comstock, a former Justice Department spokeswoman "and expert opposition researcher," have joined forces to create crisis management firm Corallo Comstock.
Corallo has also worked as chief spokesman for the Justice Department, and Karl Rove during the Valerie Plume scandal. Comstock represented Tom DeLay, Jerry Lewis, and Scooter Libby during their ethics troubles. Currently, Comstock is also a consultant for former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney's political team in anticipation for his presidential bid.
-- Mandy Smithberger
On Saturday, the Washington Post reported that the new chief of the U.S. General Services administration, Lurita Alexis Doan, wants to limit the ability of the agency's inspector general to audit contracts for fraud or waste by cutting $5 million from the inspector general's office. According to Doan, pesky audits are intimidating the work force.
"There are two kinds of terrorism in the United States--the external kind, and internally, the Inspector Generals," said Doan in notes obtained by the Washington Post.
Yesterday, Reps. Henry Waxman (D-CA), James L. Oberstar (D-MN), and Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.) sent a letter to Doan to asking for a description of her plans and a "detailed analysis of its potential effects" before making any changes or budget cuts that would affect the inspector general's work.
Doan has a pattern for disliking contract oversight, which probably has something to do with the fact that she's a former government contractor. We've mentioned Doan before in this blog when she appointed James Williams to head up the Federal Acquisition Service, which was likely a move to return a favor to Williams after he helped Doan to land contracts when she owned and ran New Technology Management, a contractor for the Department of Homeland Security.
-- Mandy Smithberger
On the campaign trail (pdf), candidate for the Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick stated that he wanted to remove politics from the Big Dig and have a special investigator review the billion dollar project that has cost one automobile passenger her life.
On November 22, 2006, Massachusetts Governor-elect Deval Patrick announced the creation of his transition working groups (pdf). His transportation working group includes many industry heavy hitters, especially people who are heavily invested in the highway system. A few transportation transition team members who raise a red flag:
Richard A. Dimino serves as the president and CEO of the Artery Business Committee (ABC), a group involved with the oversight and development of the Big Dig.
Jane Garvey is the executive vice president and chairman of APCO’s transportation practice (APCO Worldwide is a global communication consultancy). Ms. Garvey is the former head of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and the former acting administrator of the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA), which has conducted little, or no, federal oversight of the Big Dig. Prior to her work for the federal government, Ms. Garvey was the director of Logan International Airport and the commissioner of the Massachusetts Department of Public Works. (She was in charge of the FAA during the 9/11 attacks and, according to the 9/11 Commission Report, ''She was unaware of a great amount of hijacking threat information from her own intelligence unit, which, in turn, was not deeply involved in the agency's policymaking process.")
Fred Salvucci is a senior lecturer and research associate at MIT. His legacy, however, will be his work as a former Massachusetts secretary of transportation, with particular emphasis on the development of the financial and political support for the Central Artery/Tunnel Project. Some critics blame Mr. Salvucci for the Big Dig’s runaway costs and the lack of proper oversight, which resulted in privately hired consultants overseeing the project – a move that isolated many Massachusetts state engineers.
Recently, Massachusetts filed a lawsuit against the project’s primary contractor Bechtel/Parsons Brinckerhoff, as well as other contractors, manufacturers, designers, and distributors that are linked to the tragic death that occurred in July.
It remains to be seen, however, if Governor Patrick will do the right thing and conduct a comprehensive investigation into the Big Dig’s quality, safety, and finances. Based on some of the appointments to his transportation work group, there is doubt that the citizens of Massachusetts and Interstate travelers will receive genuine accountability. Hopefully Governor Patrick will obtain the advice that he needs to terminate over 20 years of government acquiescence to irresponsible contractors and political cronies.
-- Scott Amey