GOP senator: Heads should roll over 'failed' counternarcotics plane

GOP senator: Heads should roll over 'failed' counternarcotics plane
© Keren Carrion

Sen. Chuck GrassleyCharles (Chuck) Ernest GrassleySenate GOP poised to break record on Trump's court picks This week: GOP mulls vote on ‘abolish ICE’ legislation Kavanaugh paper chase heats up MORE (R-Iowa) is calling for firings after a watchdog found that a joint Pentagon-Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) counternarcotics program wasted at least $64.8 million to modify an airplane.

In a handwritten note at the end of a letter to Defense Secretary James MattisJames Norman MattisOvernight Defense: Trump tries to quell Russia furor | GOP looks to reassure NATO | Mattis open to meeting Russian counterpart Mattis open to meeting with Russian defense chief: report Overnight Defense: Fears rise over Trump-Putin summit | McCain presses Trump to hold Putin 'accountable' for hacking | Pentagon does damage control after NATO meet MORE, Grassley invoked findings from the Pentagon's inspector general, saying, “If heads don’t roll, nothing changes.”

“Common sense dictates that if an admiral can be fired or the captain of a ship can dismissed because their ship rams another (if that action is taken because of dereliction of duty) then these people connected with this failed plane need to be fired,” Grassley wrote, in an apparent reference to the firing after a spate of Navy ship collisions.

At issue is a plane the DEA bought in 2008 for the Global Discovery Program, a joint Pentagon-DEA project to modify a transport aircraft for use in Afghanistan.


A recent Pentagon inspector general report found that the office of the deputy assistant secretary of Defense for counternarcotics and global threats “wasted at least $64.8 million on the Global Discovery Program for modifications on the ATR 42-500 aircraft that DEA personnel never used for missions in Afghanistan.”

The plane was never used for any counternarcotics missions as intended and was kept in hangar in Texas. The DEA now plans to auction off the plane, according to the report.

The Pentagon inspector general's findings came after a 2016 Justice Department inspector general report found similar issues with the program.

In his letter, Grassley highlighted Mattis’s call for “budget discipline” in a July memo to the department. Mattis issued the memo in response to a separate watchdog report that found the Pentagon wasted money on camouflage uniforms for Afghanistan.

“Only by instilling budget discipline, by establishing a culture of cost awareness and by holding ourselves accountable, can we earn the trust and confidence of the Congress and the American people that we are the best possible stewards of taxpayer dollars,” Mattis wrote in the memo.

Grassley slammed the official response to the report on the plane, which he dubbed a “hangar queen.”

In responses included in the report, the undersecretary of Defense for policy said the office “was not directly responsible” for execution of the contract, the deputy assistant secretary of Defense said it was “not directly responsible for the oversight or execution” of the contract, and U.S. Central Command said it believes “the report incorrectly assigns responsibility for the failures” to the deputy assistant secretary of Defense for counternarcotics and global threats.

Grassley, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, accused those officials of “passing the buck” and said Mattis should use the plane as a “prime example” of the need to cut waste.

“In line with your call to ‘take aggressive steps to end waste in the department,’ I ask that a DoD review be conducted to determine who is responsible for what happened,” Grassley wrote. “Once that determination is made, there should be an appropriate measure of accountability, including potential disciplinary action.”