WASHINGTON — U.S. Reps. Duncan Hunter and Ted Budd are questioning the integrity and legitimacy of a Government Accountability Office report that found no wrongdoing in a U.S.-Kenya deal for 12 surveillance aircraft.
The deal has been hounded by controversy, largely driven by North Carolina lawmakers who allege the Air Force and L3 Technologies had an inappropriately close relationship and that a sole-source award to New York’s L3 improperly overcharges Kenya and overlooks North Carolina manufacturer IOMAX.
In a Sept. 19 letter to GAO chief Gene Dodaro, Budd, R-N.C., and Hunter, who is a California Republican on the House Armed Services Committee, call the GAO’s report “fundamentally flawed.”
“We have serious concerns regarding the integrity of the report and call into question the legitimacy of GAO’s findings and review,” the letter reads. “We do so based on the report’s obvious failure to sufficiently examine relevant facts and occurrences surrounding the sale. This is especially troubling given GAO’s obligation to serve as an independent and reliable auditor of the federal government.”
They fault the probe for basing its findings on Air Force representations of interactions with Kenya’s government without corroborating those representations with the Kenyan officials themselves.
They also claim the agency for overlooked acquisition system shortcomings that allowed the Air Force to bypass an off-the-shelf option in favor of “a platform that remains unproven in combat at significantly higher costs.”
The GAO defended its report in a statement Wednesday.
“We kept all of the requesters on this work informed of our scope and methodology during this effort and reviewed the documents the Kenyan government submitted,” said GAO spokesman Charles Young. “This report was an audit of a how a US agency, in this case DOD, implemented the US foreign military sales program and so it was not necessary to speak with Kenyan government officials. We believe our work is accurate.”
L3, following the release of the GAO report, said it was vindicated by GAO’s “fair decision.”
The Defense Department’s inspector general is probing the matter, Lt. Gen Arnold Bunch, the top uniformed acquisition officer at the U.S. Air Force, confirmed Tuesday. He said the Air Force is cooperating with the DODIG, as it did with the GAO and lawmaker inquiries.
“So we are very open kimono with everything to be very transparent with what we’re trying to do and to make sure that they get the information they need, because we need to make sure our business is clean and we’re doing things the right way,” Bunch said.
He said the GAO’s report is “good news for us.”
Defense officials had no reason to believe Kenya made an improper selection in the sale, according to the GAO report released Sept. 5. The $418 million sale involved Air Tractor AT-802L and AT-504 trainer aircraft, with L3 as the prime contractor and systems integrator.
The sale, announced by the State Department in January, is intended 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 foreign military sales program allow the DoD to enter into a contract for military equipment and services for resale to a foreign country and to use sole-source contracting.
At a roundtable with Bunch, he said he was withholding judgement until all probes are complete but defended the sole-source procurements in foreign military sales. So long as the contractor can reasonably meet the foreign country’s request and provide the requested capability, he said, “then we will side with the country, because they make those decisions.”
“The company specifically asked for the contractor and the platform,” Bunch said, noting that rules for foreign military sales and domestic procurement differ.
“There’s a distinction there that hopefully you all can pick up on,” he told reporters.
There is no final agreement between the U.S. and Kenya yet, and it is up to Nairobi whether to proceed, Bunch said. The decision is said to hinge on the outcome of Kenya’s elections in August, which were recently annulled.
Valerie Insinna is Defense News' air warfare reporter. She previously worked the Navy/congressional beats for Defense Daily, which followed almost three years as a staff writer for National Defense Magazine. Prior to that, she worked as an editorial assistant for the Tokyo Shimbun’s Washington bureau.