GAO finds that systems glitches lead

The Defense Department is unwittingly selling to the public surplus parts containing
sensitive military technology, the General Accounting Office said recently.

When DOD buys spare parts for aircraft, ships, vehicles and weapons, the department
assigns a code to the parts to indicate whether they contain sensitive military
technology. But Defense has a history of assigning the wrong demilitarization codes to the
parts and selling them anyway, a GAO report said.

The report, Defense Inventory: Action Needed to Avoid Inappropriate Sales of Surplus
Parts, found that miscoded parts lead to the unnecessary destruction of some equipment and
the selling of equipment with military technology.

The mistakes are potentially dangerous to national security because many of the
mislabeled parts are classified at the secret and confidential levels, the report said.
Some of the items sold include electronic warfare equipment, coders, decoders, encoders
and secure communications equipment.

In addition to information technology equipment, more conventional weapons—such as
grenade launchers, guided missile launchers, intercontinental ballistic missile
components, automatic weapons and cluster bombs—were lost because of mislabeling, the
report said.

“An initiative intended to correct inaccurately assigned demilitarization codes
did not ensure that data systems were updated with the corrected codes,” the report
said. “As a result, disposal offices continued to sell parts with military technology
intact after the codes for the parts were determined to be inaccurately assigned.”

The Defense Reutilization and Marketing Service in November 1997 began using a computer
program that automatically updates the disposal data system, eliminating the need for
manual updates. But DOD has not corrected a larger problem: fixing a glitch that prevents
equipment specialists from updating the system that tracks the equipment, the report said.

“In June 1998, DOD officials stated that the equipment specialists have attempted
to update the cataloging data system, but the system did not accept the changes,” the
report said. “They are researching the cause of the problem.”

Defense is also developing a system that will use computerized images to teach military
personnel how to destroy parts that contain military technology. The imaging system will
include instructions and illustrations on destruction techniques for more than 100,000
parts. The system should be available via the Internet to DRMS offices later this year.

GAO recommended that DOD come up with a way to prevent potentially dangerous parts from
being sold to the public or foreign adversaries. It suggested that DOD develop an action
plan with specific milestones to improve the accuracy of assigned demilitarization codes.

Roger Kallock, deputy undersecretary of Defense for logistics, in a response to GAO,
agreed with the recommendations but said the report did not take into account DOD’s
progress in fixing the problem.

DOD will produce an action plan six months after the release of a Defense Science Board
report on the subject, which is expected soon, Kallock said.  

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