WASHINGTON — A U.S. government watchdog agency has found no wrongdoing in the offer of 12 weaponized surveillance aircraft to Kenya that was flagged by U.S. lawmakers earlier this year.
Defense officials had no reason to believe Kenya made an improper selection in the sale, according to a Government Accountability Office report released Sept. 5. The $418 million sale involved Air Tractor AT-802L and AT-504 trainer aircraft, with L3 Technologies as prime contractor and systems integrator.
“We found that the events related to this [foreign military sale] transaction are consistent with the standard FMS process,” the GAO report reads. “Air Force and [Defense Security Cooperation Agency] officials stated that they did not have any reason to believe that Kenya improperly selected the AT-802L. The Air Force determined that Kenya made a reasonable choice when it selected the AT-802L aircraft.”
The GAO recommended no further action — a stinging blow to North Carolina lawmakers who asked GAO for the probe. They alleged an inappropriately close relationship between the Air Force and L3 Technologies and alleged that the sole-source award to L3, of New York, improperly overcharges Kenya and overlooks North Carolina manufacturer IOMAX.
The GAO reports that Kenya conducted its own market research and, a U.S. defense official based in Nairobi told GAO, the Kenyans value the AT-802L’s simplicity of use, ease of maintenance, and long loiter time.
The sale, announced by the State Department in January, is meant to assist Kenyan operations against the Somali militant group al-Shabaab and augment the African Union Mission in Somalia.
The GAO report notes the American laws and policies that govern the FMS program allow the Defense Department to enter into a contract for military equipment and services for resale to a foreign country, and to use sole-source contracting under certain circumstances.
Foreign customers need not provide a rationale for their sole-source contracting requests, although these requests must meet the objective requirements of the purchaser, and should not be motivated by improper or unethical considerations.
L3 said in a statement Wednesday the company was vindicated by the report.
“This upholds our long standing position that the transaction is consistent with the standard FMS process,” said L3 spokeswoman Jennifer Barton. “We appreciate the GAO’s hard work and comprehensive analysis in reaching a fair decision. L3 remains committed to supporting the needs of governments worldwide in their counter-terrorism efforts and we look forward to the pending decision by the government of Kenya.”
But at least one of the North Carolina lawmakers was dissatisfied with the GAO’s report and vowed further action.
“A report on a Kenyan arms sale that did not involve speaking to Kenyan officials is virtually useless,” Budd said in a statement. “I’m looking forward to continuing to pursue oversight of this deal, and examining why the U.S. contracting system would steer our allies in Kenya towards a contract that is inflated by $130 million for an aircraft that has never flown in combat.”
In July, Budd and Rep. Walter Jones, R-N.C., sent a letter to Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson alleging a potentially improper relationship between the Air Force unit “Big Safari” and L3. That allegation was not directed to or addressed by the GAO report.
Jones and Budd were among five North Carolina lawmakers who asked the GAO in February to probe whether the the Defense Security Cooperation Agency performed its due diligence in the sale. They claim IOMAX is more experienced and less expensive than L3.
Jones and Budd have also requested the Department of Defense Inspector General also conduct a formal investigation of the case.
Ann Stefanek, an Air Force spokeswoman at the Pentagon said Tuesday, ”The Air Force has a long and successful history of partnering with foreign nations through the foreign military sales process. Our partnership with Kenya is no exception.”
Valerie Insinna in Washington, D.C., contributed to this report.