WASHINGTON — Army Secretary Pete Geren has ordered the recall of more than 16,000 sets of body armor following an audit that concluded the bullet-blocking plates in the vests failed testing and may not provide soldiers with adequate protection.
The audit by the office of the Defense Department inspector general, not yet made public but obtained by The Associated Press, faults the Army for flawed testing procedures before awarding a contract for the armor.
In a letter date Jan. 27 to Acting Inspector General Gordon Heddell, Geren said he did not agree that the plates failed the testing or that soldiers were issued deficient gear. He said his opinion was backed by the Pentagon's top testing director.
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Despite his insistence that the armor was not deficient, Geren said he was recalling the sets as a precaution.
Geren also said he's asked for a senior Pentagon official to resolve the disagreement between the Army and the inspector general's office.
"To ensure there can be no question regarding the effectiveness of every soldier's body armor, I have today ordered that the plates at issue be identified and collected until such a time as the matter has been adjudicated by the deputy secretary of defense," he wrote.
Hundreds of thousands of body armor sets have been manufactured by nearly a dozen different companies over the past seven years. The vests are now standard gear for troops in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The audit by the inspector general's office was the second requested by Rep. Louise Slaughter, D-N.Y. She first asked the watchdog agency to look into the acquisition of the ballistic vests in 2006 after she read newspaper reports saying inadequate body armor was causing U.S. casualties.
The first audit was completed last year, but Slaughter said it wasn't thorough enough.
Slaughter said Wednesday she's satisfied with the latest report but remains concerned the Army has not changed its contracting methods to ensure the troops are getting the best gear.
"I'm not through," she said. "I really want to know which contracts are bad."
Heddell is scheduled to give Slaughter a briefing Thursday on the audit's findings.
Auditors focused on a step called first article testing. These tests are to confirm the product meets the Army's specifications. But the audit says the Army didn't perform or score the tests consistently.
"Consequently, we believe that three of the eight ballistic insert designs that passed first article testing actually failed," the audit says.
The contract examined by the inspector general's office is listed in the audit only as W91CRB-04-D-0040. An Aug, 20, 2004, an announcement on the Defense Department's Web site states a contract under that designation was awarded to Armor Works of Chandler, Ariz.
The Army bought 51,334 sets of the protective inserts under the contract for just over $57 million, according to the inspector general.
A call to Armor Works was not immediately returned.