America’s Latest Spending Fiasco

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TIME’s Mark Thompson has a great piece up today about the latest outrage in the long sad rip off of taxpayers that bureaucrats like to call “federal procurement.”

The maiden voyage of the taxpayer’s newest nearly $2 billion warship stalled for two days in August. That’s when the stern gate of the USS San Antonio — needed to roll vehicles on and off the nearly 700-foot vessel — wouldn’t work. The Navy eventually got the gate fixed in time for the vessel to leave Norfolk and sail to the Persian Gulf, where its mission is to hunt down smugglers. But now the San Antonio has been forced into port in Bahrain for at least two weeks of repairs to leaks in the hefty pipes feeding fuel to two of its four engines. Hinting at the seriousness of the problem, the Navy has just dispatched a team of 40 workers — including engineers, pipe-fitters and welders — to Bahrain to make the San Antonio shipshape. “Forty technicians — that’s ludicrous,” says Norman Polmar, an independent naval expert. “It means the problems are major, because the ship has mechanics, metal smiths and other people on board as part of the crew, and they’re supposed to take care of minor problems.” And you thought McHale’s Navy was cancelled back in 1966.

The San Antonio is the first in a new class of amphibious ships — blue-water buses — each of which carries 350 sailors and is responsible for ferrying 700 Marines and their gear to global hot spots. And the ship’s sad plight represents in miniature all that is wrong with the way the Pentagon buys its weapons. The pattern of haste and waste accelerated in the Cold War’s wake, and simply exploded following 9/11.

Other outrages are not hard to find. Perhaps the most glaring is the Coast Guard’s $24 billion Deepwater program. In a clear sign of how desperate the current federal procurement system is, the program was not originally managed by the federal government. (Read that last sentence again. It is not a joke.) It was overseen by two of the nation’s largest federal contractors, Lockheed Martin and Northrup Grumman. Not surprisingly, many observers say the two companies messed up royally. CBS News reported on the problems last year, highlighting one particularly galling example.

[T]he Coast Guard spent nearly $100 million to ruin eight patrol boats. The plan was to take the aging workhorses of the fleet, the 110-foot Island Class patrol boats, and lengthen them by 13 feet, adding a launch ramp for small inflatable boats and expanding the superstructure. But something went drastically wrong at the Bollinger Shipyard near New Orleans, where the first eight boats were extended. “What you see is a lot of buckling. In the floor. And spaces where you know something is bending that shouldn’t be bending in other words it should be flat,” [Rep. Elijah] Cummings recalls.

After just a few weeks on the water, all eight boats experienced severe structural problems and had to be pulled out of service. They are currently tied up at a pier at the Coast Guard’s Baltimore yard waiting to be decommissioned. Their problems, the Coast Guard says, are too serious to be fixed.

Most Americans have a vague sense that the U.S. government spends their money poorly. In fact, the problems are much worse than they know.