Senators question Pentagon on $1 billion canceled program

WASHINGTON Wed Dec 5, 2012 7:16pm EST

U.S. Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin (L)(D-MI) and Ranking Republican John McCain (R-AZ) confer during the confirmation hearing of U.S. Army General Martin Dempsey for Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, on Capitol Hill in Washington, July 26, 2011. REUTERS/Jason Reed

U.S. Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin (L)(D-MI) and Ranking Republican John McCain (R-AZ) confer during the confirmation hearing of U.S. Army General Martin Dempsey for Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, on Capitol Hill in Washington, July 26, 2011.

Credit: Reuters/Jason Reed

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WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Leaders of the U.S. Senate Armed Services Committee on Wednesday blasted the Air Force for wasting $1 billion on a logistics support system that has now been canceled, calling it "one of the most egregious examples of mismanagement in recent memory."

Committee Chairman Carl Levin, and the top Republican on the panel, Senator John McCain, demanded that Defense Secretary Leon Panetta explain what happened with the Expeditionary Combat Support System, and hold those responsible accountable.

"The public and the taxpayers deserve a clear explanation of how the Air Force came to spend more than $1 billion without receiving any significant military capability, who will be held accountable, and what steps the Department is taking to ensure that this will not happen again," the senators wrote in a letter to Panetta, which was released by the committee.

The Air Force recently terminated the program, run by Computer Sciences Corp, after concluding it would cost another $1 billion to gain at least some of the capability the program was initially expected to have, the senators said.

They said Air Force officials had told them the service had received usable hardware and software with a value of less than $150 million from the program.

Air Force spokeswoman Ann Stefanek said the service decided to cancel the program and move forward with other options to meet a statutory requirement to be audit ready in fiscal 2017.

"As our acquisition and logistics leadership worked through the third program restructure in the last three years, it became apparent the Air Force will be better served by developing an entirely new strategy versus revamping the ECSS system of record again," she said in a statement emailed to Reuters.

The senators asked Panetta to respond to a series of detailed questions about what capabilities could be salvaged from the terminated program, what caused the program's failure, and why it took so long to cancel it.

They also asked what changes the Defense Department planned to make to its procurement policies to avoid similar issues in the future and whether it had taken steps to ensure other programs were not suffering from similar problems.

They also asked the Pentagon to outline options for replacing the ECSS program, and estimates of their likely cost.

(Reporting By Andrea Shalal-Esa; Editing by David Gregorio, Bernard Orr)

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