GAO's Walker disputes cover-up allegations

The head of the Government Accountability Office yesterday rejected a whistleblower’s charge that his agency covered up fraud in a report about a key missile defense program.

“The allegations lack merit,” GAO Comptroller David Walker told Sen. Wayne Allard (R-Colo.), chairman of the Appropriations Committee’s Legislative Branch Subcommittee. “Just because they are printed doesn’t mean they are true.”

Allard said he was deeply concerned about an April 2 article in The New York Times citing allegations by GAO analyst Subrata Ghoshroy that the congressional watchdog ignored evidence that the program’s contractors made false statements, doctored data and skewed test results.

In 2000, Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) and Rep. Howard Berman (D-Calif.) asked the GAO to conduct a review into fraud allegations that surfaced about an early missile defense flight test.

The contractors for the missile defense technology under scrutiny were Boeing and TRW, now part of defense giant Northrop Grumman. The contractors are working on a $26 billion system of interceptor rockets.

But the GAO team that pursued Grassley and Berman’s request covered up its final findings, alleges Ghoshroy, who was the team’s lead technical analyst.

At issue is the first flight test of the ground-based interceptor, a key element of the national missile defense program. It has been renamed ground-based midcourse defense and is being fielded in Alaska.

The most crucial part of that system is the so-called exo-atmospheric kill vehicle, or EKV. It rides on the interceptor rocket, which carries it to a certain altitude in space before releasing it so that it can fly toward the incoming warhead to destroy it.

The heart of the EKV itself is a supercooled infrared sensor, which acts like the eye of the kill vehicle. The sensor finds and tracks the target warhead and decoys as it flies toward them.

Ghoshroy charges that the team found data that questioned whether the sensor could distinguish warheads from decoys, among other problems.

“We had gathered most of the information that was necessary for us to answer your questions,” Ghoshroy, who is now working on loan at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, wrote in a December 2005 letter to Berman. “However, at the urging of its attorneys whose sympathies clearly lied with the Pentagon, GAO made a decision some ten months after the start of our review to not answer your original questions.”

Instead, the team gave the lawmakers a report that was heavily biased in favor of the defense contractors and exonerated Boeing and TRW of wrongdoing, despite compelling evidence to the contrary, Ghoshroy alleged. “It did so in close collaboration with defense program officials,” he said.

But Walker strongly denied any wrongdoing and went so far as to say that his agency “should have not accepted [the review] request from day one.”

Walker testified that the agency had conducted three internal reports and all had come back with no evidence of wrongdoing by the GAO.

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