Chuck Grassley

United States Senator from Iowa

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Grassley Seeks Investigation of Lockheed Manufacturing Contract, Worker Health Complaints

Jan 23, 2020

Request for Investigation Prompted by Multiple Whistleblower Accounts

 
WASHINGTON – Senate Finance Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) is seeking an inspector general investigation into the manufacturing practices of Lockheed Martin’s C-130J aircraft after whistleblower reports stated that an apparent lack of oversight by the Department of Defense has resulted in significant health and safety concerns.
 
“Any and every contract with the American government needs to live up to the standards set out in law. It appears like the deficient oversight of this contract left American workers in the lurch while the taxpayer money kept flowing. Whatever the reason, we ought to know why the department failed to provide oversight and recommend corrective action in a timely manner,” Grassley said.
 
Defense Department officials responsible for this contract are charged with overseeing its compliance with labor and safety standards provided in statute. Multiple whistleblowers have reported to Grassley’s office that, during the construction of the C-130J, Lockheed ignored OSHA and other safety standards placing employees at risk. The slow or deficient oversight raises concerns about the relationships between department employees and contractors.
 
In a letter to Department of Defense Principal Deputy Inspector General Glenn Fine, Grassley requested an investigation and report on the complaints related to the C-130J contract, whether the department’s oversight efforts were deficient because of close relationships between department officials and contractors, and whether such close relationships might inhibit the rigorous oversight of other Defense Department contracts.
 
Full text of Grassley’s letter follows or can be found HERE.
 
January 22, 2020
 
VIA ELECTRONIC TRANSMISSION
 
Glenn A. Fine
Principal Deputy Inspector General
Department of Defense, Office of the Inspector General
4800 Mark Center Dr. 
Alexandria, VA 22350
 
Dear Mr. Fine:
 
            A whistleblower contacted my office with allegations that, until recently, Lockheed Martin (Lockheed) was manufacturing integral fuel tanks for the C-130J cargo plane in a potentially unsafe and hazardous manner.  The whistleblower further alleges that Department of Defense’s (DOD) Contracting Officer Representatives (COR), a government contract specialist charged with ensuring that Lockheed adheres to all contract specifications, failed to address the problem for years.[1]  These allegations raise questions about DOD’s ability to conduct oversight of its contractors, and a potential culture of coziness between defense contractors and those at DOD charged with overseeing them.
 
            Lockheed’s C‑130 “Hercules” is the U.S. military’s principal tactical airlift and troop transport aircraft.[2]  The aircraft is capable of operating in adverse conditions, such as utilizing rough dirt strips to land, and is the primary transport for delivering troops and equipment into hostile areas.[3]  The C‑130J, referred to as “Super Hercules,” is the latest variant of the C‑130 family of aircraft that has been in continuous production since 1954.[4]  Visually, the C-130J closely resembles the original C‑130, however, the J variant has significant advancements in avionics and performance.[5]  Notably, the C‑130J was built with an enhanced digital glass cockpit, increased range, cruise, ceiling, speed, and aerial refueling capabilities.[6]  After the C‑130J entered active service with the United States Air Force in April 2004, it quickly proved its worth when it saw combat in Iraq and Afghanistan.[7]
 
            The whistleblower alleges that Lockheed has been applying a chemical used for sealing the C-130J’s integral fuel tank in an aerosol form that is not listed in the chemical manufacturer’s approved methods.[8]  The application of this chemical, by this method, may have long term consequences for those applying the chemical as well as others involved in the manufacturing process nearby.  To that end, several other whistleblowers have reached out to my office asserting that these health concerns were initially ignored by Lockheed, and those with potentially connected health issues were pushed aside when their concerns were raised.  What’s more, only after many years did DOD elements begin to investigate these claims, only to apparently drop the issue altogether when Lockheed sent DOD notice of their intention, via a corrective action report, to stop applying the chemical in an aerosol form. 
 
This raises concerns regarding government contractor oversight and the objectivity, or at least competence, of those tasked with this oversight role.  According to whistleblowers, when spraying this chemical on the plane, so many particles would end up floating in the air that a “large blue cloud” would form inside of the facility.  Employees both spraying the plane and in other parts of the facility would be exposed to, and inhaling what amounts to industrial strength airplane glue.  Despite the obvious safety hazard, DOD’s COR presumably failed to ask elementary questions regarding possible health concerns, or review basic documents involved with the proper use and handling of hazardous chemicals.[9] 
 
Unfortunately, my concerns about the effectiveness of contracting oversight are not new. In 1983, I chaired a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing in which an expert witness stated that there was an “inherent weakness” in having resident COR auditors work every day with a single defense contractor.[10]  According to the expert, this relationship leads to a “coziness” between the COR and the contractor that is sometimes described by those involved in government contracting as “going native.”[11]  These auditors “come to view the contractor as their client,” and often “represent the views of the contractor to the higher levels of the Government” instead of representing the interest of the government and the taxpayer.[12]
 
            The C‑130J is a pivotal upgrade to the C‑130, the U.S. military’s preeminent forward operating fixed wing transport aircraft.  As such, Congress must ensure the aircraft is safe, capable of fulfilling its missions, and not a health risk to those who build and maintain it.  That means verifying that DOD is providing rigorous oversight of these contracts.  To that end, I ask that your office begin an investigation into the use of PR-148 in the C-130J manufacturing process; and the specific use of Corrective Action Requests (CARs) in this process and the limitations placed on investigators after the acceptance of the CAR.[13]  Additionally, I ask that your office conduct a specific review of the effectiveness of DOD oversight of this contract, including whether and how relationships between the Department of Defense and its contractors may have affected the oversight of this matter; and how relationships between contractors and Department oversight personnel may generally affect oversight of government contracts.[14]  Please provide an unclassified report of your findings, and recommend any appropriate remedies and reforms.
 
Should you have questions, please contact Daniel Boatright or Dario Camacho of my Committee staff at (202) 224-4515.  Thank you for your attention to this important matter.
 
Sincerely,
 
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[1] Department of Defense, COR Handbook: Director Defense Procurement and Acquisition Policy OUSD (AT&L) (2012) available at https://www.acq.osd.mil/dpap/cpic/cp/docs/USA001390-12_DoD_COR_Handbook_Signed.pdf.
[2] Stephan Wilkinson, The Perfect Airlifter, Aviation Hist. (Jan. 2013), available at https://www.historynet.com/the-perfect-airlift.htm.
[3]Jeremiah Gertler & Timrek Heisler, Cong. Research Serv., R43618, C-130 Hercules: Background, Sustainment, Modernization, Issues for Congress 1 (2014) (“[C-130s] are referred to as tactical airlifters because they can deliver passengers and cargo directly into remote or austere areas.”); C-130 Hercules, U.S.A.F. (June 20, 2018), available at https://www.af.mil/About-Us/Fact-Sheets/Display/Article/1555054/c-130-hercules/ (“The C-130 Hercules primarily performs the tactical portion of the airlift mission.”).
[4] Robert Sherman & John Pike, C-130 Hercules, Fed. Am. Scientists: Mil. Analysis Network (Feb. 20, 2000), available at https://fas.org/man/dod-101/sys/ac/c-130.htm.
[5] C-130J Super Hercules: One Aircraft, Many Capabilities, Lockheed Martin (2018), available at https://www.lockheed martin.com/content/dam/lockheed-martin/aero/documents/C-130J/MG180389_C-130Brochure_New Purchase_Final_Web.pdf.
[6] C-130J Hercules Tactical Transport Aircraft, A.F. Tech., available at https://www.airforce-technology.com/projects/hercules/ (last visited Oct. 23, 2019).
[7] Id.
[8] Technical Data: PR-148 Adhesion Promoter, PPG Aerospace (June 2010), available at http://www.ppgaerospace.com/ getmedia/c177f8b9-ef14-48bc-87d7-b0ce3949ad6f/pr_148.pdf?ext=.pdf (instructing to apply the adhesion promoter with a gauze pad or a brush but no instruction concerning an aerosol, such as a spray paint gun); Safety Data Sheet, PPG Aerospace (Apr. 20, 2018), available at https://p11.secure.hostingprod.com/@site.skygeek.com/ssl/MSDS/prc-desoto-pr-148-clear-adhesion-promoter-2-oz.pdf (outlining the adhesion promoter’s hazards and the personal protective equipment necessary when applying the adhesion promoter as instructed by the chemical’s manufacturer); see also Lockheed Martin Aeronautics Company, MPS 7730M, Manufacturing Process Standard: Sealing C‑130 Integral Fuel Tanks 30 (July 31, 2017) 16 tbl.V step 3(d) (explaining that as of 2017, Lockheed’s manufacturing process showed application methods via cotton cloth, brush, and aerosol).
[9] Supra note 1 at 75 (stating that complying “with … Occupational Safety and Health Administration, Environmental Protection Agency, and Department of Labor regulations or local standards” is a key assessment factor necessary in the monitoring of defense contractors).
[10] Role of Whistleblowers in Administrative Proceedings: Hearing Before the Subcomm. on Admin. Practice & Procedure of the S. Comm. on the Judiciary, 98th Cong. 154 (1983), available at https://ia802700.us.archive.org/2/items/roleofwhistleblo00unit/ roleofwhistleblo00unit.pdf#page=154.
[11] Id.
[12] Id.
[13] Supra note 8.
[14] Supra note 10.
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