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DoD Must Tighten Controls on Excess Equipment Sales

By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Oct. 7, 2003 – The United States needs to tighten controls on Internet sales of excess Defense Department laboratory equipment that could be used to make chemical and biological agents, a General Accounting Office official said here today.

"DoD is selling excess property that could be used to produce and disseminate anthrax or other biological agents," Kutz told the House Government Reform Defense subcommittee.

Kutz, the director of the Financial Management and Assurance Team at GAO, also said DoD sold protective suits U.S. personnel use today to the general public, a process expressly forbidden by DoD policies.

GAO is the investigative arm of Congress. Kutz's team established a fictitious company and purchased excess DoD property over the Internet.

"We spent $4,100 to purchase these new and usable items," Kutz said, gesturing to an exhibit he brought to the hearing. "The biological equipment currently has no restrictions for sales to the public."

Kutz showed off four pieces of excess DoD equipment that could be used to make biological agents. The company bought a biological safety cabinet, he told the representatives. He said further research indicated DoD had sold 18 similar cabinets in the last three and a half years. Kutz said the cabinet appeared to be unused.

The company also purchased a bacteriological incubator. The department sold at least 199 similar pieces, including much larger versions. Kutz also showed a laboratory centrifuge. DoD has sold 521 over the last three and a half years. Kutz's team also bought a laboratory evaporator one of 65 sold.

Kutz showed representatives two final exhibits: chemical/biological protective suits and protective gear. He said experts told him these items "would be critical to the protection of terrorists during the production handling and dissemination of anthrax."

Unlike the equipment, there is a DoD policy forbidding sale of these items to the general public.

"In June and August 2003, we purchased two DoD bid lots that included over 500 chem-bio suits," Kutz said. "We found DoD sold at least 286,000 chem-bio suits over three and a half years." Many of the suits were in the original packages and had not exceeded expiration dates.

Kutz said that the company submitted fictitious information to DoD and had an end-use certificate issued for these purchases. "In addition, 379 of the suits we purchased were defective battle dress overgarments," he said. "DoD can't account for 250,000 of these defective suits. All 379 of the defective suits we purchased, had previously issued to local law enforcement agencies. In addition, 4,700 suits that may be defective were also issued to law enforcement."

Kutz said his group has made two recommendations about the problem, and that DoD agrees with both. First, before equipment can be sold, DoD scientists should do a risk assessment of excess property sales in conjunction with the Department of Homeland Security, Kutz said.

"Second, DoD needs to establish mechanisms to ensure the protective suits and protective gear are not sold to the public," he said. "Lack of adherence to valid policies is a chronic problem at DoD that in this case could have significant consequences."

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