The head of the General Accounting Office said yesterday that his agency will ask the Justice Department to consider whether conflict-of-interest laws were violated in connection with a proposed policy to "standardize" computers bought for military purposes.
Comptroller General Charles A. Bowsher told a House hearing that a GAO investigation showed that seven of the 11 members of a Pentagon advisory task force that endorsed the policy had "financial interests in one or more of the firms" that have contracts with the Army, Navy or Air Force for the new computers. The government would own the designs of the computers.
He said that implementation of the policy, which Defense Secretary Caspar W. Weinberger has endorsed, could shift billions of dollars of contracts from computer firms that compete in the marketplace to military suppliers with "little or no commercially oriented computer capability."
The GAO chief testified that five task force members had financial interests in contractors working on the standardized designs, and two had interests in these suppliers as well as in commercially oriented firms. In a further breakdown, he said that two received salaries, two got consulting fees, one owned stock, and two got salaries from and owned stock in at least one firm.
Several task force members reached Wednesday said there was no impropriety involved in their actions. The Department of Defense has declined to comment.
Bowsher did not identify any company or any one on the task force, which was created last August by the Defense Science Board, the Pentagon's highest-ranking advisory body. The DSB acted at the request of Richard D. DeLauer, undersecretary of defense for research and engineering. Until he went to the Pentagon in the spring of 1981, he was a DSB member and an executive vice president and director of TRW Inc., a leading aerospace contractor.
Rep. Jack Brooks (D-Tex.), chairman of the House Government Operations national security subcommittee, said at the hearing that DeLauer and H. Mark Grove, who works for DeLauer and is the DSB's executive secretary, "picked out all of the members" of the task force.
Brooks charged that the proposed policy would "guarantee a weakened defense capability" and harm the "advanced and highly productive" computer industry. Bowsher, in a letter to Brooks, said that, "The more significant appearances of conflicts of interest are raised by the two members who received salaries from one of the Army's advance development contractors."
Several government sources familiar with the investigation said that only TRW had two representatives on the task force: John G. Weber, who was at the company's military electronics division in San Diego until last month, and Barry W. Boehm, of TRW's defense and space systems group in Redondo Beach, Calif. Weber said Wednesday that he had no conflict of interest. Boehm could not be reached for comment.
According to public records, a TRW and General Electric Co. joint venture, RCA, and Raytheon Corp. have Army contracts for development of an advanced computer. A government source said one of the three ultimately will be chosen to come up with a design for billions of dollars worth of military computers.
A TRW spokesman said Wednesday that the company "has no plans in the next several years" to start making standardized military computers.
Bowsher also testified that because of "the tilt of task force membership toward interests that support the proposed policy," its conclusions "cannot reasonably be looked upon as having been objectively reached, irrespective of the merits of those policies."
He said that the Pentagon required task force members, as "special employes," to submit financial disclosure forms, but that it did not review and approve all of the forms in a timely manner. Two members submitted the forms "after the task force had finished its deliberations," he said. Bowsher based his testimony about the appearance of conflicts on the information provided on these forms.
GAO investigators interviewed officials of 23 computer firms and trade associations that filed statements with the Pentagon on the proposed new policy. Eight of the 13 officials who commented on the makeup of the task force said it was unbalanced; nine of 14 who commented on the task force's use of the statements said they believed they were ignored. Of those nine, Bowsher said, five "believed the task force made its decision before receiving their comments."
Bowsher testified that his primary concern was that the panel was not "balanced" as required by law, and that he believed there is no shortage of unbiased computer experts that the Pentagon could have chosen for the task force.
A few weeks ago, Norman R. Augustine, chairman of the DSB and president of Martin-Marietta's aerospace subsidiary in Denver, asked Joseph H. Sherick, the Pentagon official responsible for review and oversight, to review what Sherick termed "allegations of conflicts of interest" among DSB and task force members. Sherick indicated that the review will be completed next month.
Brooks said the subcommittee requested that Augustine testify, but he did not reply. "Inexcusable," said Rep. Frank Horton (N.Y.), the subcommittee's senior Republican.
Weinberger offered to send Mark Grove to testify for the Pentagon. But Brooks rejected the idea, saying that top Pentagon officials and Augustine are the ones to explain what he termed "improper actions" in the Pentagon and the DSB.