An almost $400 million infusion into the Army’s Stryker program comes with strings attached from lawmakers who want to know more about a stockpile of unneeded replacement parts that built up at an Auburn warehouse during the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.
The defense budget President Barack Obama signed Christmas week sets aside the money to buy or modify Strykers, but it states the Army cannot spend the full amount until it tells Congress what it’s doing to dispose of the $900 million worth of Stryker parts Defense Department auditors found at the warehouse in 2012.
The bill, called the National Defense Authorization Act, orders Secretary of the Army John McHugh to produce a report to the House and Senate Armed Services committees that details whether any of the parts can still be used for a military purpose and outline what’s being done to sell the rest.
Rep. Tammy Duckworth, D-Ill., requested the limitations on Stryker funding in the $526.8 billion defense bill. She wanted to hold the Army accountable to the recommendations outlined by the Defense Department Inspector General in its report on the parts stockpile, said a Democratic staff member on the House Armed Services Committee.
The parts accumulated during fast-paced war years in which General Dynamics continually revised the Stryker to counter threats in Iraq and Afghanistan. There now are 17 varieties of the vehicles, including heavily armored ones with slanted hulls specifically designed to deflect mines in Afghanistan.
Those changes saved lives, but also created a complicated repair and replacement process that the Army is working to standardize with its other ground vehicle programs.
“The (Stryker program) is being executed in a dynamic environment from the moment the vehicles came off the production line,” Paul Rogers, the Army’s former deputy director of ground combat vehicles, told auditors in 2012.
Until recently, the Army relied on contractors to maintain the 20-ton, eight-wheeled machines. Now it’s opening positions for enlisted Stryker mechanics so men and women in uniform can take more responsibility for the upkeep of the vehicles.
The Defense Department Inspector General published three audits of Stryker contracts since 2012 that suggested the Army did not create incentives to control costs for work on the infantry vehicles. The company’s last $1.6 billion maintenance contract reimbursed General Dynamics for its purchases of parts and provided a fixed fee in each year of the agreement.
In return, General Dynamics was expected to keep 90 percent of the Army’s almost 2,600 Strykers ready for deployments. The company exceeded that goal, typically hitting a 96 percent readiness rate.
Yet that focus encouraged General Dynamics to stock up on unnecessary inventory at taxpayers’ expense, according to the first audit of the company’s maintenance contract. The audit suggested the Army overspent by $335.9 million on the first five years of the deal.
The second audit, released in November 2012, drew the most attention because it suggested the Army was sitting on hundreds of millions of dollars worth of replacement parts at the Auburn warehouse.
Most of the parts were obsolete, such as $57 million worth of infrared equipment that had not been used since 2007.
In some cases, the Army kept buying gear it didn’t need, such as replacement gears for a suspension problem that surfaced between 2007 and 2009. General Dynamics solved the underlying problem in 2010 but kept buying the unneeded replacement gears.
Neither the Army nor the company took full responsibility for the parts in the Auburn warehouse. Each party believed the other side was responsible for tracking the parts, according to the report.
The audits recommended the Army take ownership of all of the parts and enter them in its equipment-tracking systems.
The warehouse is a 730,000-square-foot site owned by the federal government but managed by General Dynamics.
Joint Base Lewis-McChord is considered the home of the Stryker. It first was developed for infantry brigades at the base just before the Iraq War, and Lewis-McChord has more Strykers than any other Army post.
Logistics officers from Lewis-McChord’s 7th Infantry Division visited the Auburn site last year after The News Tribune published a story on the Inspector General audit. The soldiers were in the midst of their own effort to catalog the inventory of Stryker parts at the base. They found most of the warehouse parts to be outdated and ill-suited for current variations of Stryker vehicles.Adam Ashton: 253-597-8646 adam.ashton@ thenewstribune.com