Former owner of DoD contractors pleads guilty to exporting military blueprints to India

The U.S. Dept. of Justice (DOJ) has announced that the former owner of two New Jersey defense contracting businesses admitted that she conspired to send sensitive military technical data to India.

Hannah Robert of North Brunswick, New Jersey, pleaded guilty on April 1, 2015 to conspiracy to violate the Arms Export Control Act by exporting to India military technical drawings without prior approval from the U.S. Department of State.

“Hannah Robert circumvented the U.S. government and provided defense technical drawings in violation of the Arms Export Control Act,” said Assistant Attorney General Carlin.  “We will continue to pursue and hold accountable those who abuse their access to sensitive defense information.  I would like to thank all of the special agents, prosecutors and other personnel whose work led to the guilty plea in this case.”

“Hannah Robert conspired to send to another country thousands of technical drawings of defense hardware items and sensitive military data,” said U.S. Attorney Fishman.  “She was also charged with manufacturing substandard parts that were not up to spec, in violation of the contracts she signed with the Department of Defense.  Enforcement of the Arms Export Control Act is critical to the defense of our country.”

According to documents filed in this case and statements made in court:

  • In June 2010, Robert was the founder, owner and president of One Source USA LLC, a company located at her then-residence in Mount Laurel, New Jersey, that contracted with the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) to supply defense hardware items and spare parts.  In September 2012, Robert opened another defense company, Caldwell Components Inc., based at the same address.  Along with a resident of India identified only as “P.R.,” Robert owned and operated a third company located in India that manufactured defense hardware items and spare parts.
  • From June 2010 to December 2012, Robert conspired to export to India defense technical drawings without obtaining the necessary licenses from the U.S. Department of State.  The exported technical drawings include parts used in the torpedo systems for nuclear submarines, military attack helicopters and F-15 fighter aircrafts.

In addition to United States’ sales, Robert and P.R. sold defense hardware items to foreign customers.  Robert transmitted export-controlled technical data to P.R. in India so that Robert and P.R. could submit bids to foreign actors, including those in the United Arab Emirates (UAE), to supply them or their foreign customers with defense hardware items and spare parts.  Neither Robert nor P.R. obtained approval from the U.S. Department of State for this conduct.

On Aug. 23, 2012, P.R. e-mailed Robert requesting the technical drawing for a particular military item.  P.R.’s e-mail forwarded Robert an e-mail from an individual purporting to be “an official contractor of the UAE Ministry of Defence,” and who listed a business address in Abu Dhabi, UAE.  The UAE e-mail requested quotations for a bid for the “blanket assembly” for the CH-47F Chinook military helicopter and listed the “End User” for the hardware item as the UAE Armed Forces.  Later that same day, Robert replied to P.R.’s e-mail, attaching, among other things, the electronic file for an export-controlled technical drawing titled “Installation and Assy Acoustic Blankets, STA 120 CH-47F,” to be used in the Chinook attack helicopter.

In October 2010, Robert transmitted the military drawings for these parts to India by posting the technical data to the password-protected website of a Camden County, New Jersey, church where she was a volunteer web administrator.  This was done without the knowledge of the church staff.  Robert e-mailed P.R. the username and password to the church website so that P.R. could download the files from India.  Through the course of the scheme, Robert uploaded thousands of technical drawings to the church website for P.R. to download in India.

On June 25, 2012, P.R. e-mailed Robert, stating: “Please send me the church web site username and password.”  The e-mail was in reference to both an invoice to and a quote for a trans-shipper known to Robert as a broker of defense hardware items for an end user in Pakistan.  This individual used a UAE address for shipping purposes.  Later that day, Robert replied to this e-mail, providing a new username and password for the church website so that P.R. could download the particular defense drawings.

On Oct. 5, 2012, Robert e-mailed P.R. with the subject line “Important.”  The e-mail referenced the Pakistan trans-shipper, a separate potential sale to individuals in Indonesia and the church website: “Please quote [the Pakistan trans-shipper] and Indonesia items today[.] [Dr]awings I cannot do now as if the size exceeds then problem, I should be watching what I upload, will do over the weekend[.]  Ask me if you need any drawing . . . . Talk to you tomorrow . . . .”

There were also quality issues with the parts that Robert provided to the DoD.  After the DoD in October 2012 disclosed that certain parts used in the wings of the F-15 fighter aircraft, supplied by one of One Source USA’s U.S. customers failed, Robert and P.R. provided the principal of their customer with false and misleading material certifications and inspection reports for the parts.  These documents, to be transmitted to the DoD, listed only One Source USA’s New Jersey address and not the address of the actual manufacturer in India, One Source India.  As a result of the failed wing pins, the DoD grounded approximately 47 F-15 fighter aircraft for inspection and repair, at a cost estimated to exceed $150,000.

Until November 2012, Robert was an employee of a separate defense contractor in Burlington County, New Jersey, where she worked as a system analyst and had access to thousands of drawings marked with export-control warnings and information on this defense contractor’s bids on DoD contracts.  Robert misrepresented to her employer the nature and extent of her involvement with One Source USA in order to conceal her criminal conduct.

Count six of the superseding indictment – conspiracy to violate the Arms Export Control Act – is punishable by a maximum potential penalty of five years in prison and a fine of $250,000.  As part of her plea agreement, Robert must pay $181,015 to the DoD, which includes the cost of repair for the grounded F-15s.  Robert also consented to a forfeiture money judgment of $77,792, which represents the dollar value of Robert’s fraudulent contracts with DoD.

The Arms Export Control Act prohibits the export of defense articles and defense services without first obtaining a license from the U.S. Department of State and is one of the principal export control laws in the United States.

Source: http://www.justice.gov/opa/pr/former-owner-defense-contracting-businesses-pleads-guilty-illegally-exporting-military

Government spent less on contracts in 2014 than it did the previous year

Federal spending on government contracts decreased in 2014, with the Defense Department seeing the biggest overall decline, according to a March 3 report from Govini, a business consulting company for government contractors.

Govini, each year, releases a federal scorecard that tallies and analyzes data on federal contract spending and agency performance.

The scorecard, which was released to reporters, shows that overall contract spending from the federal government was down 4 percent in 2014 compared to 2013.

The DoD saw the greatest overall decrease in dollars spent, with a nearly $9 billion year-over-year decrease in both the Navy and Army.

Keep reading this article at: http://www.fiercegovernment.com/story/report-government-spent-less-contracts-2014-it-did-previous-year/2015-03-05

Pass-through contracts for war zones need monitoring, GAO finds

Three agencies working overseas that together spent $322 billion on contracting in fiscal 2013 need to improve guidance given contracting officers to reduce risk of overpayments, a watchdog found. Two-thirds of that money is funneled through prime contractors to smaller contractors who perform most of the work.

Use of pass-through contracts—under which at least 70 percent of funding is routed to subcontractors—requires new analysis and guidance before they are awarded, the Government Accountability Office noted in a Dec. 22, 2014 report.

“Concerns remain that the government could overpay contractors that provide no, or little, added value for work performed by lower-tier subcontractors,” GAO wrote.

The watchdog cited requirements imposed on the Defense and State Departments and the U.S. Agency for International Development under the 2007, 2009 and 2013 versions of the National Defense Authorization Act to reduce waste in purchasing goods and services primarily in Afghanistan.

Keep reading this article at: http://www.govexec.com/defense/2014/12/pass-through-contracts-war-zones-need-monitoring-gao-finds/102024/

GAO says federal agencies need better oversight of contractor-operated systems

Congressional investigators found that several federal agencies are not consistently overseeing security and privacy measures for information systems operated by contractors.

In reviewing six selected agencies, the Government Accountability Office said the agencies generally established security and privacy requirements and had plans to assess the effectiveness of contractor-operated systems. But five of the agencies were inconsistent in such reviews.

For example, the GAO report  released Sept. 9, 2014 said Transportation Department officials responsible for system testing didn’t evaluate whether seven contractor employees had the required background investigation.

“When they did so in response to our audit, they found that three of them did not,” GAO investigators said. “Officials stated that they subsequently removed system access rights for the three contractor employees until their background investigations had been completed.”

Besides DOT, GAO also reviewed the Energy, Homeland Security, and State departments as well as the Environmental Protection Agency and Office of Personnel Management.

Keep reading this article at: http://www.fiercegovernmentit.com/story/gao-says-federal-agencies-need-better-oversight-contractor-operated-systems/2014-09-10 

 

Contractor suspensions and debarments doubled over the last 4 years

The number of contractor suspensions and debarments government-wide have doubled since fiscal 2009 because agencies have developed better management tools and a more active referral process, a May 21 Government Accountability Office (GAO) report says.

Agencies can use suspension and debarment to exclude individuals, contractors and grantees from receiving future contracts, grants and other federal assistance due to various types of misconduct.

A previous GAO report found agencies issuing the most procurement related suspensions and debarments shared common characteristics: dedicated staff, detailed policies and procedures, and an active referral process.

Many agencies that previously faltered in rooting out contractor misconduct have taken the lead from those stronger agencies, the latest report says.

Keep reading this article at: http://www.fiercegovernment.com/story/gao-contractor-suspensions-and-debarments-have-doubled-over-last-4-years/2014-05-22

State Dept. IG issues alert over $6 billion in contracting money unaccounted for

The State Department’s inspector general has warned the department that $6 billion in contracting money over the past six years cannot be properly accounted for and cited “significant financial risk and . . . a lack of internal control.”

The warning was the second “management alert” in State Department history, both issued by new Inspector General Steve Linick. Linick took over the job in late September, after it had been vacant for nearly six years.

oth the alert, dated March 20, and the department’s response a week later, were made public Thursday, April 3, 2014.

The department said it concurred in all recommendations and outlined steps it will take to address what it agreed is a “vulnerability.”

Linick initiated the alert format to report on problems that remain unaddressed despite repeatedly being identified in IG audits and investigations. The first alert, released in January in partly classified form, cited “significant and recurring weaknesses in the Department of State Information System Security Program.”

Keep reading this article at: http://www.washingtonpost.com/world/national-security/state-department-inspector-general-issues-alert-over-6-billion-in-contracting-money/2014/04/03/8ebf465c-bb73-11e3-9a05-c739f29ccb08_story.html 

Watchdog taps contractors for lessons on rebuilding Afghanistan

U.S. contractors on the front lines of the mission know better than “the happy talk coming out” of Afghanistan, said John Sopko, the special inspector general for Afghanistan reconstruction.

On Tuesday (Feb. 18, 2014), Sopko tasked a major contractors group with supplying lessons learned and best practices to help the U.S. effort to rebuild and stabilize the country against terrorism. A similar request to the Pentagon, State Department and U.S. Agency for International Development produced a “shocking result,” he said. “I asked for their top 10 successful programs and their 10 least successful, and none offered anything but general improvements—with no specifics or direct causal links,” he said. “In an era of declining funding, we have to know what works and what doesn’t.”

Speaking at a lunch put on the Professional Services Council, an Arlington-Va.-based association of major contractors, Sopko praised the role of contractors in U.S. government work from supplying Revolutionary War troops to helping invent the atomic bomb.

In Afghanistan, they are expected to play a continuing role after most U.S. troops officially depart at the end of 2014, and “many have made the ultimate sacrifice,” Sopko said, citing three contractors who died earlier this month from a suicide bombing in Kabul. After the September 2013 truck bomb attack on the U.S. consulate in Herat, Sopko’s representative there told him that contractors were the first to engage in a one-hour gun fight that prevented further enemy penetration of the complex — a fact not reported at the time, he said.

The U.S. total investment in Afghanistan of more than $100 billion since 2002 is the “most costly effort to rebuild a nation in U.S. history — more than what we give to Israel, Egypt and Pakistan combined,” Sopko said. The U.S. will leave when the funds fall to $250 million, but with $20 billion still in the pipeline, U.S. agencies will be there for some time, he said. Only 20 percent of the country, however, is currently accessible to SIGAR’s 50 auditors there on the ground due to continuing combat, he said, a drop from 50 percent in 2009.

Keep reading this article at: http://www.govexec.com/contracting/2014/02/watchdog-taps-contractors-lessons-rebuilding-afghanistan/78989/

Senators spar with agencies over war-zone contracting reforms

Officials of three agencies running contracting operations in war-torn Afghanistan and Iraq on Tuesday defended their progress on implementing reforms required in the last defense authorization bill.  Topics ranged from white-elephant construction projects to contractor suspensions to the politically disputed September 2012 fatalities at the U.S. outpost in Benghazi.

Representatives from the Defense and State departments and the U.S. Agency for International Development highlighted their own “proactive” initiatives to curb contractor corruption, save money and better protect U.S. personnel facing danger.

Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., called the oversight hearing of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee to gauge progress on reforms she was instrumental in passing as part of the 2013 National Defense Authorization Act.  “It is much better than it was in 2007 in every single one of your agencies,” McCaskill said. “Everyone is making progress.”

But she lamented that the majority of the reforms implemented after a bipartisan commission recommended them “apply only to future contingencies, not Iraq or Afghanistan,” she said.

Keep reading this article at: http://www.govexec.com/contracting/2013/07/senators-spar-agencies-over-war-zone-contracting-reforms/66827

Reverse auctions: A bid for budget-conscious business

Sometimes a good idea gets even better with the passage of time.

Ten years ago, shaving nearly 15 percent off the cost of a procurement by using a novel approach to the bidding process was a good idea. A decade later, as agencies across the government are seeing programs cut and discretionary funding dry up, it seems like a great idea.

In 2002, Cathy Read, director of acquisitions management at the State Department, gathered her most forward-thinking contracting specialists — the ones who “were always looking for a better way to save money and do it faster” — and asked them to try a new approach to buying commercial IT products.

Rather than soliciting quotes from companies and then picking the one with the best value, the department invited companies to bid against one another, driving the price lower and lower until one bidder emerged as the winner. It’s like an auction, except instead of bidding to buy products, companies are bidding to sell them — hence the name “reverse auction.”

The approach has paid off. State officials estimate they saved $33 million on more than 3,000 purchases in fiscal 2011, based on an independent government estimate. That’s a savings of more than 14 percent.

Proponents say other agencies could achieve similar savings, for a governmentwide total of billions of dollars a year. Given the current budget crisis, those experts say reverse auctions deserve a closer look.

“You can’t always do things the way you’ve always done them,” Read said. “You have to be lean on your feet, and you have to make do with what you have.”

Start small, think big

Reverse auctions are appealing because it’s easy to test the approach and see immediate savings — and imagine how much more savings they could bring to bigger projects.

In the beginning, Read had State auction off a few items to test the new method, and when she consistently found that the approach was saving money, she turned to reverse auctions more often over the years and with a wider array of commodities.

As time went on, the savings continued to increase and the competition for solicitations improved.

Even the department’s inspector general took note of the savings from reverse auctions in a report on spending under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009. After reviewing a $13 million program to replace desktop workstations, the IG estimated that the reverse-auction approach had saved the department 7 percent, with greater savings being seen on other projects.

David Wyld, professor of management at Southeastern Louisiana University, has done extensive research into the benefits of reverse auctions. He has determined that $74.5 billion in federal acquisitions could be competed through reverse auctions, and his analysis of auctions conducted across the government demonstrated a savings of 11.9 percent. That means the auctions could bring an annual savings of $8.9 billion across the federal government, with $6.1 billion saved on Defense Department spending alone.

“To me, the real-world benefit is the cliché ‘faster, better, cheaper’ way of doing business,” said Wyld, whose findings were published by the IBM Center for the Business of Government in a report titled “Reverse Auctioning: Saving Money and Increasing Transparency.”

Saving more than money

However, this isn’t just about saving money.

Time is an equally precious commodity in government offices, and many federal officials and acquisition experts say the acquisition workforce doesn’t have enough hours in a day to do all that it needs to do. Both Wyld and Read said reverse auctions save employees the non-renewable resource of time.

Wyld studied how much time State saved by using reverse auctions and found that the department shaved off nearly a full workday from each procurement it conducted using reverse auctions. Specifically, the department saved an average of 475 minutes — or 7.92 hours — whenever it conducted an acquisition through reverse auctions rather than traditional procurement methods.

“If you’re going to be a buying shop today when budgets are being cut by 15 to 20 percent because money is an issue, then as a buyer, you have to look for better, faster, more creative ways to get your program office what it needs,” Read said.

Agency officials must consider tools like reverse auctions or they won’t be able to adjust to the ongoing need to reduce the cost of government operations, she added.

Nevertheless, the auctions are not simply a way to save a little time and money here and there. The approach also streamlines the negotiation process. Reverse auctions simplify communication and collaboration between buyers and sellers, Wyld wrote in his report. “The competitive bidding processes that took weeks or even months to complete can be compressed into days or even hours,” he said.

All those factors help increase competition and bring agencies closer to the true fair-market value of a purchase. State’s IG wrote that reverse auctions “have been found to be significantly less expensive per item than buying the items from comparable General Services Administration schedules.”

The flip side of reverse auctions

Reverse auctions do have their limitations. For one thing, “the expedited form of procurement won’t work without oversight,” said Robert Burton, former deputy administrator of the Office of Federal Procurement Policy (OFPP) and now a partner at Venable law firm.

Furthermore, procurement offices cannot turn over all solicitations to reverse auctions. The approach only works when the terms of the contract are clearly defined and there is little — or no — room for flexibility. In other words, it is best for common products. Burton warned against buying services through a reverse auction because such contracts have far too many variables.

However, Read said she believed it was possible to buy certain basic services through reverse auctions.

Furthermore, Wyld said the auctions could change the nature of the relationship between buyers and suppliers. Instead of establishing long-term partnerships, relationships might only last until the next competition. The potential for switching suppliers is a cost of doing business, and for basic items, it won’t matter much, he said.

“Copy paper is copy paper,” Wyld said. “Toilet paper is toilet paper.”

However, a reverse auction also might affect the dynamic between buyers and suppliers, with the suppliers feeling coerced into lowering their prices in order to join an auction, Wyld wrote.

Jaime Gracia, president and CEO of Seville Government Consulting, said the reduction in procurement spending has the potential to make competition fierce, which, in turn, forces companies to lower their prices to win contracts.

To succeed with reverse auctions, Gracia said agency officials must determine which procurements are appropriate for reverse auctions — and which are not — and they must make sure that those solicitations have very clear requirements.

Making the case for innovation

Experts say now is the time to sell agencies on reverse auctioning because senior officials are desperate to find ways to conserve their resources.

“Agencies are looking under trees and in the couch for any spare change,” Gracia said.

OFPP has issued memos calling for agencies to use innovative procurement tools, including reverse auctions. Recently Dan Gordon, outgoing OFPP administrator, urged agencies to consider the approach.

To make the case to their bosses, Read said procurement officials should start small and document the results. From the beginning, she kept detailed notes on the reverse auctions that State conducted. She can cite dollar amounts, volumes and percentages by fiscal year.

“You can see the metrics are very important to really understand if we have savings and success,” she said.

However, she said that although innovative contracting specialists will likely embrace reverse auctions, instituting the approach agencywide will take time. “Change management issues in a federal government agency are always a bit of a challenge,” Read said.

Wyld, too, said reverse auctions should be implemented with care. However, he added, “hill by hill, staffer by staffer, people will change after hearing firsthand stories of savings.”

About the Author: Matthew Weigelt is a senior writer covering acquisition and procurement for Federal Computer Week. Published Dec. 12, 2011 at http://fcw.com/articles/2011/12/12/feat-reverse-auctions.aspx.

House subpoenas four agencies for small-business noncompliance

Four federal agencies were issued subpoenas by the House Small Business Committee on Oct. 20 for not complying with the Small Business Act’s procurement policies, according to a committee staffer.

The departments of Justice, Agriculture, Treasury and State were summoned to appear before the the Small Business subcommittee on contracting and workforce on Nov. 1 to testify why they are in noncompliance.

At issue is the “structure” of these agencies’ Small and Disadvantaged Business Utilization Offices (OSDBU) and “the fact that they are not reporting to the agency head or deputy head,” wrote Darrell Jordon, house committee spokesman, in an e-mail to Washington Technology.

OSDBUs were conceived in 1978 with the purpose of having federal agencies set aside contracts for small and disadvantaged businesses. The Small Business Act also has requirements that agencies report their procurement activities with small and disadvantaged businesses.

Justice, Agriculture, Treasury and State were warned of their missteps and given a chance to remedy the situation after a June Government Accountability Office small business contracting report found seven agencies not in compliance.

Following that report, letters to agencies were sent by subcommittee Chairman Mick Mulvaney (R-SC). As a result, the Interior Department and Social Security Administration are now in compliance, and a third, the Commerce Department, was pardoned due to an administrative issue.

In September, agencies were reminded of their noncompliance by memo and a hearing was held on Sept. 15 by the subcommittee to examine the GAO report and the economic impact of noncompliance.

As part of the subpoena procedure, the four agencies must produce a number of documents, including paperwork relating to their small business procurement programs, attainment of small business goals or challenges to decisions not to restrict competition to small business between Jan. 20, 2009, and Sept. 30, 2011.

About the Author: Alysha Sideman is an online content producer with 1105 Government Information Group. Published by Washington Technology – Oct. 21, 2011 at http://washingtontechnology.com/articles/2011/10/21/small-biz-committee-subpoenas.aspx