By Phillip Swarts
Move over, shopping addicts, you’ve got nothing on Uncle Sam.
In the latest example of wasted tax dollars, the Pentagon spent a whopping $14 million to go shopping for semi-automatic rifles that the Army now acknowledges it doesn’t need or want.
The tale of the replacement search for the M4 carbine rifle — the preferred weapon of soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan since first issued in 2010 — illustrates how military leaders and taxpayers can get squeezed by the whims of congressional players.
Under pressure from a powerful senator, the Army reluctantly launched the Individual Carbine program to find a replacement for the M4, even though top Army officials seemed pleased with the weapon’s performance despite a few cases of jamming in the field. Then, after a lengthy effort to test new alternatives, the Pentagon decided to stay with its current gun, leaving behind a hefty bill for browsing, not buying.
“The Army wasted about $14 million on a competition to identify a source to supply new carbines it does not need,” the Pentagon’s chief watchdog, the inspector general, warned in a report this month.
For conducting a shopping spree that was unnecessary and unproductive, the Army Individual Carbine program wins this week’s Golden Hammer, an award highlighting fiscal waste and abuse.
The tortured path of the M4 controversy began in 2007, when Sen. Tom Coburn, Oklahoma Republican, placed a hold on the nomination of Pete Geren to be secretary of the Army until the service agreed to evaluate replacements for the rifle.
That led the Army to pursue a “dual-path strategy”: It would look for ways to improve the M4 and continue purchasing the weapon while starting the Individual Carbine program to research an eventual replacement.
After his confirmation, Mr. Geren in October 2008 issued a memo ordering officers to look into replacements for the M4, “given the department’s significant interest in providing our soldiers with the best small arms weapons available.”
But the inspector general said the Army didn’t need new weapons and “did not justify the requirement for a new carbine.” An internal analysis by the Army showed that the M4 could be used for another 10 years with no impact on troop capabilities.
Investigators were worried about the cost of weapons that they considered to be unnecessary, as the Army was planning to spend $2.52 billion over 20 years purchasing and maintaining the guns.
The program also faced internal resistance. The commanding general of the U.S. Army Maneuver Center of Excellence, now at Fort Benning, Ga., said most of the things soldiers needed to do could be achieved by improvements to the M4 and “that the Army should focus its limited funding on its highest-priority capability needs.”
The inspector general said that although “gaps existed in soldier and small-unit capabilities that needed to be addressed, none of the solutions for resolving the gaps required replacing the M4.”
Several sources on Capitol Hill familiar with the program told The Washington Times that they believed the Army maintained the effort to consider new weapons only because of pressure from Mr. Coburn, who also placed a hold on the nomination of Heidi Shyu to be the assistant secretary of the Army in charge of acquisitions.