Counter-IED efforts still beset by poor oversight and duplication

The Pentagon has trouble tracking billions of dollars in expenditures on the most vexing threat of the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts



The wreckage of a Bradley armored vehicle burns after a 2004 IED attack in Iraq. 

Hadi Mizban/AP

The Pentagon has pumped billions of dollars into programs to counter the dangers of improvised explosive devices over the last decade but still lacks a way to track whether its initiatives are meeting their goals — a circumstance that a government watchdog warns could lead to overlap and wasted taxpayer funds.

Poor record keeping has hindered the Defense Department’s ability to monitor more than 1,300 individual anti-IED projects, complicating any effort by outsiders to assess whether the funds have been well spent, a report released Wednesday by the Government Accountability Office said.

“DOD has not determined, and does not have a ready means for determining,” just how many anti-IED projects it is currently funding, the report said. Although GAO accounted for $4.8 billion in Pentagon spending, it called that estimate “understated,” because many anti-IED initiatives weren’t properly recorded.

“DOD has funded hundreds of C-IED initiatives but has not developed a comprehensive database of these initiatives or the organizations conducting them,” the report stated.

The report is a follow up to a February 2012 GAO study that concluded DOD does not have “full visibility” over its anti-IED projects.

The Joint Improvised Explosive Device Defeat Organization (JIEDDO), which oversees all this work, has become a symbol of the organizational mess that can ensue when huge government sums are thrown at an urgent project. Improvised Explosive Devices, better known as IEDs, remain a weapon of choice against U.S. and allied forces in Afghanistan, where 16,500 IEDs were detonated or discovered being used against U.S. troops in Afghanistan in 2011.

A sudden infusion of funds by the Pentagon in 2006 turned JIEDDO from a 12-person Army task force into a $21 billion organization with 1,900 personnel. But, as noted by the Center in March 2011, the IED-fighting force never developed any new methods or technology for improving detection of explosives, and its impact was muted. A soldier’s chances of finding an IED before it detonates has remained about 50 percent since the Pentagon formed JIEDDO.

Of the 1,340 anti-IED initiatives funded by the Pentagon since 2008, 596 of them were conducted by JIEDDO. But the organization was unable to provide the accountability office with information on the cost or the effectiveness of four-fifths of those initiatives. In comparison, 80 percent of the non-JIEDDO initiatives completed the GAO survey.

As an example of overlap, GAO’s survey uncovered 107 initiatives spread over 19 organizations working to neutralize cell phone-triggered IEDs, a situation GAO warns “demonstrates overlap and the potential for duplication of effort.”

Other areas of potential overlap included two organizations that produced similar IED-related intelligence reports, two organizations that developed similar robots to detect IEDs from a safe distance, and two organizations that created anti-IED devices using chemical sensors “similar in their technologies and capabilities.”

In its response to the report, the Pentagon criticized the watchdog agency for portraying JIEDDO as “uncooperative” despite having opened up its record books to investigators. GAO noted that, while they agree they were provided access, the limitations of available data showed the extent of JIEDDO’s disorganization.

The Pentagon also disputed GAO’s claims of overlap in counter-IED efforts. For example, the Defense Department noted that when the agency pointed to 60 chemical sensor projects by 14 organizations, it failed to mention the sensors are meant to detect different chemical signatures.

GAO’s response? Without a comprehensive list of counter-IED efforts, neither DOD nor the watchdog agency can tell how and “to what degree” the chemical sensors are actually different from each other — and so “the potential for duplication exists.”  

The Pentagon also took issue with GAO’s comparison of two intelligence analysis groups working on counter-IED projects. Although GAO’s report stated the two groups worked in similar areas without knowledge of the other’s activities, the Pentagon said that assessment was outdated and that the two analysis groups are now communicating.

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