Wednesday, April 9, 2008

The Importance of Getting it Right

I stumbled across a rather lazily-researched story in the Washington Post today. Not only does this story accept at face value contradictory and easily disproven statements, from the government AND a defense contractor, it fails to do one of the basic things a story should always do, and that is, inform the reader. Journalistic malpractice is unforgiveable. I realize that people need to phone it in. I phone it in all of the time--but I'm an old man with an unreadable blog. I'm allowed to phone it in. It's expected of me to phone it in, sir.

I'd like to go just go one week without stories like this:
Government auditors said yesterday that nearly half of 28 contracts to manufacture body armor for Army soldiers were completed without the gear ever going through an initial test.

Nearly $3 billion worth of body armor did not go through early inspections known as "first article testing," or FAT, that are performed before major production to ensure that a company can meet the contract's requirements and to catch any defects, according to a report by the Defense Department's inspector general. Contracting officials say the initial testing is done to save time and money.

"Army contracting officials did not require or perform FAT for 13 of the 28 Army contracts and orders reviewed," the report said. As a result, the Defense Department "has no assurance" that the equipment produced under the 13 contracts "met the required standards," the report said.

Officials with the inspector general's office said its auditors did not test the armor or look for flaws after it was made and put into use. The Army manager who oversees the body armor program told Defense Department officials that "the Army has no evidence of deaths that can be attributed to defective body armor."

A spokesman for the Army said that while some paperwork may have been missing, none of the body armor had problems. "None of this equipment in all of the tests we've done is flawed," said Paul Boyce, the spokesman. "It has not shown any signs of flaws."
Are you kidding me? Anyone with half a brain could stumble across a report such as this even if they weren't trying too hard:
In its investigative report, however, NBC interviewed Jim Magee, a retired Marine colonel who designed the current body armor in use by the military, known as Interceptor. Magee said he felt Dragon Skin was the best available -- "two steps ahead of anything I've ever seen." Other people interviewed for the show claimed that officers at lower levels tried to sabotage the use of Dragon Skin because it was not Army developed and would threaten their funding and programs.

NBC also reported that the CIA had approved Dragon Skin for its elite operatives and that select soldiers assigned to protect generals and VIPs in Iraq and Afghanistan wore Dragon Skin.
And they do that because of stories like this:
Interceptor Armor Test Sequence
The Interceptor SAPI (Level III) plate failed, and failed miserably, at the 2d round while Dragon Skin Level IIIE (Enhanced) defeated 186 Rounds (see Below) .
The Setting: "On Thursday, military members, law enforcement agents and the media were invited to the C2 shooting center in Virginia Beach for a test - Dragon Skin vs. the body armor currently being used by the military."
Choice Comment on Dragon Skin: "This is absolutely unbelievable. I've never seen anything defeat these types of rounds this close before in my life," said Marc Whedbee, a former soldier and law enforcement officer.
Next Up : "The traditional body armor being worn by troops overseas today. The plate did not hold up.
There are links aplenty here if you want to look into this yourself. I mean, if I can discover all of this material, surely, someone working for a newspaper could as well, correct? It would appear to me that they either forgot to look for the material or simply ignored whatever was presented to them. Pardon me while I roll my eyes in disgust:

A settlement in the case was reached between the parties and preliminarily approved on December 12, 2005. The lawsuit is a class action that asserts that the defendants, Point Blank Body Armor, Inc. and Protective Apparel Corporation of America, Inc. ("Point Blank/PACA") manufactured bullet-resistant vests containing Zylon®, including Galls branded vests containing Zylon®, that failed to meet the performance characteristics for which they were warranted. The defendants deny the allegations in the lawsuit.

The vests involved were sold by Point Blank/PACA and their distributors to state and local law enforcement agencies and others and include, among others, the following popular models: Fusion, Legacy, Galls ZL1, Galls ZL2, Galls ZL3, The Beast, RTZ, ZG, ZPG, ZGS-2, Z3-2 AND WF 1002. On August 24, 2005, the United States Department of Justice, National Institute of Justice, decertified all vests containing-Zylon® and on the same date issued a warning stating "The National Institute of Justice hereby advises that it has identified…Zylon® as a material that appears to create a risk of death or serious injury as a result of degraded ballistic performance when used in body armor." Point Blank/PACA do not concur with the conclusions reached by the NIJ.
Here's another lawsuit, filed in Florida:
COMPLAINT FOR INJUNCTIVE AND OTHER RELIEF -Plaintiff Securities and Exchange Commission ("Commission") alleges as follows INTRODUCTION 1. DHB Industries, Inc. ("DHB") is a major supplier of body armor to the U.S. military and law enforcement agencies. From at least 2003 through 2005, Defendant Dawn M. Schlegel, DHB's former Chief Financial Officer, and Defendant Sandra L. Hatfield, DHB's former Chief Operating Officer, engaged in widespread manipulation of DHB's inventory, cost of goods sold, gross profit, gross margin, pre-tax income, and other figures through fraudulent and repeated violations of Generally Accepted Accounting Principles ("GAAP"). This resulted in DHB materially misstating key financial information in its filings with the Commission and in its earnings releases.
Now, do you think the fact that the Army didn't do those tests matters? Especially when you look at the track record of DHB? It's a bald-faced outrage.

So while US troops were being handed body armor that hadn't been tested and was manufactured, at least in part, by companies like DHB, where did your tax dollars go? Into the pocket of DHB Chairman David H. Brooks.
In December of 2005, Brooks reportedly spent $10 million on his daughter's bat mitzvah party. Entertainment was provided by Tom Petty, Aerosmith, and 50 Cent.
Now, I can understand why the Washington Post wouldn't tell you that very last part, since we all love to hear Tom Petty shamble through his back catalog, but shouldn't they have done some basic, simple research into the Dragon Skin vs Interceptor controversy?

And maybe, just maybe, pointed to several years worth of embarrassing developments in the saga of a reprehensible company called DHB?