Pentagon lied to Congress about bombers, GAO says

June 11, 1993|By Boston Globe

WASHINGTON -- The armed services provided government investigators with deliberately false information on the controversial B-1B bomber and refused to hand over data on another key weapons system, a Senate committee was told yesterday.

The allegations were made in a report on U.S. nuclear defenses presented to the Senate Government Operations Committee by the General Accounting Office, a congressional agency. The report, the result of a three-year review of the so-called strategic triad -- the United States' land-, air- and sea-based strategic forces -- is scathing in its assessment of the way the armed forces acquired new strategic weapons and evaluated its old ones.

A GAO official said that, for 1989 tests of the B-1B, the Department of Defense even had two sets of data: the numbers sent to the GAO and the correct ones.

The report depicts the military as consistently exaggerating the threat from Soviet strategic forces, while underplaying the effectiveness of most weapons in the U.S. nuclear arsenal. It says the military routinely made excessive claims for new and expensive weapons such as the B-2 and B1-B bombers, while inaccurately dismissing the much less expensive B-52 bomber as obsolete.

Most importantly, the report's compilers say, the military's cost estimates of new strategic systems were regularly understated. There was a clear pattern of omitting the support and operations expenses of new weapons systems, even though such costs represent a substantial portion of any weapons system's costs, GAO Assistant Comptroller General Eleanor Chelimsky said in a phone interview after the hearing.

The two incidents of military obstructionism cited at the hearing took place at the end of the Bush administration, but apparently involved senior officers rather than political appointees.

The most egregious incident concerned the B1-B bomber. When the GAO tried to check the performance of the long-range bomber, which has a long track record of problems, they were given false data, Ms. Chelimsky told the committee.

There could be no mistaking the military's intent to deceive, she said. "We have a memo that says 'these are the data that we have sent to the GAO and these are the correct ones,' " Ms. Chelimsky said in the interview. The memo then noted that the real data were not for dissemination to the GAO, she added.

She refused to give details of the memo, which was classified as secret, while saying the figures were "quite different."

On another occasion, the military refused to hand over data on the reli ability of the MX "Peacekeeper" warhead. They cited national security, Ms. Chelimsky noted, after having provided NTC similar information in previous years.

She said there had been several new tests since the last block of data had been released, and GAO investigators believe the military's unwillingness to divulge the data was because the results were unfavorable.

The Senate committee asked Deputy Defense Secretary William Perry to check whether the allega tions were correct and whether the officials involved were still in positions of responsibility.

Some senators, including committee chairman John Glenn, R-Ohio, expressed fears that the armed services would give the Pentagon's new civilian leadership false data for the bottom-to-top review of the defense budget and the complete re-evaluation of strategy, troop needs and budget that is now near completion.

Commenting for the Defense Department, Mr. Perry said the GAO report, in its effort to reduce the complex strategic triad into "smaller, more manageable portions," had emerged with an excessively "black and white" cost analysis.

He defended the decision to develop stealth weapons such as the B-2, and he rejected the GAO contention that the current U.S. strategic forces "provide excessive capabilities."

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