IG says Pentagon’s anti-IED office spent $112 million on initiatives never proven to work

The rapid acquisition office the Pentagon set up a decade ago to fight against improvised explosives spent at least $112 million to deliver the military services several programs that were never proven to work, the Defense Department’s inspector general said Tuesday.

In a partially-redacted report the IG compiled at the request of Congress, auditors said 8.4 percent of the counter-IED initiatives pressed forward by what’s now known as the Joint Improvised-Threat Defeat Agency (JIDA) between 2012 and 2015...

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The rapid acquisition office the Pentagon set up a decade ago to fight against improvised explosives spent at least $112 million to deliver the military services several programs that were never proven to work, the Defense Department’s inspector general said Tuesday.

In a partially-redacted report the IG compiled at the request of Congress, auditors said 8.4 percent of the counter-IED initiatives pressed forward by what’s now known as the Joint Improvised-Threat Defeat Agency (JIDA) between 2012 and 2015 never underwent sufficient testing to show they could disrupt the networks that set off IEDs or disabling the devices themselves.

The report was far from an indictment of the overall process the military has used to fund new technologies in the fight against IEDs: The IG noted that JIDA — formerly known as the Joint Improvised Explosive Defeat Organization (JIEDDO) until its renaming last year — had “effective processes to develop, demonstrate, and deliver solutions to the battlefield,” as long as they’re followed.

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As a general matter, those processes mean that JIDA is allowed to use special acquisition authorities to fund research and development into everything from jamming devices that can stop terrorists from detonating roadside bombs to miniaturized robotic boats that use sonar to help find and disable homemade, underwater mines. Each of those projects is supposed to have a clear plan to transition from JIDA to whichever military service expects to use them on the battlefield.

But the IG found that wasn’t the case in several major projects JIDA developed and funded. In several instances, the shortcomings weren’t necessarily JIDA’s fault.

For example, the Army’s Test and Evaluation Command (ATEC) was supposed to have been assisting the anti-IED agency with the field-testing of its technologies by embedding its own testing personnel within combat units who regularly ran across IEDs on battlefields in the Mideast. But ATEC ended that project in December of 2013 without notifying anyone from JIDA.

In another case, JIDA officials intentionally transferred a program known as WRITE to the Army long before it was ready for fielding, mostly because Army officials said they wanted to integrate the IED identification software into the vast Distributed Common Ground System it’s currently building to integrate and analyze battlefield intelligence, and both the Army and JIDA were already paying the same contractor to develop similar technologies.

“But after the JIDA transferred the initiative, the Army spent $10.9 million over two years and determined  WRITE would not provide the expected capabilities within DCGS-A, “the IG wrote. “The Army then decided that the costs to implement WRITE and its $100,000 annual license fees were not worth the capabilities the WRITE would provide.”

But auditors also found fault with JIDA itself for not making the best use of its funds, blaming internal control weaknesses and failures to use the IT systems it had already developed to track the progress of its own projects and expenditures.

The IG looked at JIDA’s six most expensive projects, and found that none of them — with a collective value of $447 million — had the program management agreements required by the office’s own regulations to make sure they were smoothly transitioned to another DoD agency or military service once they’d proven effective.

“JIDA personnel stated that they had not used program management agreements because they involved lengthy staffing processes,” the DoD IG said. “JIDA personnel explained that JIDA used other controls to ensure program managers adhere to initiative cost, schedule, and performance.”

And a JIDA IT system called CheckPoint — a database the agency commissioned at a cost of $6 million so that each of its divisions could and track the problems they were trying to solve — was actually only being used by one of JIDA’s divisions.

“Better control procedures will help make sure there is reasonable assurance that JIDA records all initiatives funded in the system,” the auditors wrote. “The JIDA director… needs to develop control procedures that make certain the supporting documentation required at each management decision point is completed and captured in the CheckPoint database and authorizes any exceptions to the requirements.”

Lt. Gen. Michael Shields, who took over as JIDA’s director in the summer of 2015, agreed with most the audit findings and said his agency had updated its practices to require signed management agreements before it transitions any of its initiatives — and their accompanying funding — to the military services. He said he’ll also order all of JIDA’s divisions to update the CheckPoint system with supporting documentation for each project they’re working on.

“JIDA is confident the corrective actions…will address the internal control weaknesses identified by the DoD IG,” Shields wrote.

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