In a procurement process that the Defense Department's inspector general called "the anatomy of a failure," the Navy resorted to forging an admiral's signature photographically to get a boat project launched, spent $10.7 million on the craft before the builder went bankrupt and now has nothing but a partially completed boat to show for it.
Everett Pyatt, assistant secretary of the Navy for shipbuilding, tried to keep the forging episode from becoming public, according to Pentagon documents.
"This matter is properly under investigation by the Naval Investigative Service and should be properly resolved internally within the Department of Defense without escalating it formally through wide distribution of your final documents," Pyatt wrote the inspector general. "We request that you delete reference to this incident from your documents."
Derek J. Vander Schaaf, deputy inspector general, who was the top executive in that office at the time, evidently declined to excise the reference to forgery. Documents obtained by The Washington Post describe that episode as well as a long list of failures to follow Pentagon procurement rules.
The Navy information office said yesterday that Pyatt would have no comment on the alleged photographic forgery or his attempt to keep it quiet.
The saga began in 1982 when Congress decided that special forces such as the Army's Green Berets, Rangers and Delta Force and the Navy's Seals should have a transportable patrol boat tailored to their needs. It was designated the special warfare craft, medium (SWCM1).
Congress appropriated $2 million as a down payment. The Navy in 1984 contracted with RMI Inc. of National City, Calif., to design and build the first of what was supposed to be a fleet of 19 boats costing a total of $242 million.
The unraveling began in the development stage, the inspector general said, when Navy surface warfare executives reduced the patrol boat's mission, seaworthiness, weapons, speed and range "without input or concurrence by the special operations forces community."
The Navy was supposed to have a plan for testing the boat before going into final design and production, a step called TEMP, for test and evaluation master plan. The deputy chief of naval operations for surface warfare at that time, Vice Adm. Robert Walters, the report says, gave the go-ahead without the proper paper work in hand.
"The requisite documents were still not approved in November 1984, when the construction option of this contract was exercised," the report says.
"Just before the award of the construction option, a photo reproduction of the signature of the commander of the Navy's operational test and evaluation force had been affixed to the TEMP.
"Although the admiral whose signature was affixed denied having reviewed or approved the TEMP, the apparently signed and approved document was promulgated as support for the award," the report says. Construction went forward.
The admiral whose signature was allegedly photographically forged was not named in the report and the inspector general's office refused to identify him last night. Navy officials said he was Rear Adm. Edward W. Carter III, who has since retired.
The Navy paid $10.7 million for the boat before RMI Inc. filed for bankruptcy last August. The Navy got one boat that was 60 percent completed. Finishing the craft would cost $5 million to $6 million, pushing its price tag 250 percent above what had been projected, the report says. Even then, the boat would not be able to do what the special forces require, according to the inspector general.
"Although not completed as an operational craft," the Navy said yesterday when asked for comment on the inspector general's report, the boat "will prove a valuable developmental test and evaluation asset for further exploration of special warfare technologies . . . . With benefit of hindsight, we see flaws in the execution of the program . . . . "