Grassley: A Case in Waste, Fraud and Abuse: The Office of Net Assessment
Jul 02, 2020
Prepared Floor Remarks by U.S. Senator Chuck Grassley of Iowa
A Case in Waste, Fraud and Abuse: The Office of Net Assessment
Thursday, July 2, 2020
I’ve made a career of fighting against government waste, fraud and abuse.
Most recently, I’ve found it in an office within the Department of Defense called the Office of Net Assessment (ONA).
Its purpose is to produce an annual net assessment, which is a long term look at our military’s capabilities and those of our greatest adversaries.
That office has lost its way.
When I began to review Stefan Halper’s contracting work for ONA, something didn’t look right. So, I asked the Inspector General to look into it.
For those who are unaware, Stefan Halper was a central figure in the debunked Russia-collusion investigation.
Halper secretly recorded Trump campaign officials during Crossfire Hurricane.
Halper also received over a million taxpayer dollars from ONA for several “research” projects.
But the Inspector General found some problems with his contract:
- ONA didn’t require Halper to submit evidence that he actually talked to the people he cited in his work, which included Russian intelligence officers;
- ONA couldn’t provide sufficient documentation that Halper conducted all of his work in accordance with the law; and
- ONA didn’t maintain sufficient documentation to comply with all Federal contracting requirements and OMB guidelines.
The Inspector General also found that these problems were not unique to Halper’s contracts, which indicates systemic issues within ONA.
Moreover, it’s been reported that some of the individuals that Halper cited as sources in his research have denied contributing to his work.
Oddly, ONA Director James Baker has repeatedly told me that Halper’s deliverables were “high quality” and “conformed to the requirements set forth in the contract.”
What planet does ONA live on?
ONA spends almost $20 million a year of taxpayer money.
Yet, according to a deposition of Mr. Baker, ONA hasn’t performed an annual net assessment – since 2007. A net assessment is ONA’s core mission and its purpose got lost along the way.
Moreover, after I began my oversight of ONA, a DOD Directive regulating ONA was changed to provide cover for the unit’s lackluster performance.
On April 14, 2020, “shall” was removed from the December 23, 2009 version of the Directive that required ONA to produce net assessments.
The new version also changed ONA’s research scope to generic “research” seemingly untethered to a net assessment.
Last week I introduced an amendment to the Defense Bill that does several things.
First, it reduces ONA’s budget to 10 million dollars a year.
Second, it requires the Secretary of Defense to create a comprehensive plan to ensure that ONA performs an annual net assessment and complies with federal contracting requirements.
Third, it requires the DOD Inspector General to study and report on ONA’s contracting failures and determine if a net assessment can be done for less than 10 million dollars.
Fourth, it requires GAO to perform an audit of the effectiveness of the comprehensive plan.
Right now, ONA lacks leadership and discipline. It has wasted tens of millions of dollars over the years.
Congress must take a stand.
I encourage my colleagues to support the amendment.