More than one-third of the military equipment deemed surplus and made available in the Defense Department’s so-called 1033 program was either new or unused according to information provided Tuesday to the Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee.
Representatives from the departments of Defense, Homeland Security and Justice faced sometimes pointed questions about waste, weak oversight and almost nonexistent coordination among the programs their departments administer to help local police departments gain access to military equipment.
Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., began her questioning in by disclosing that 36 percent of the surplus property given away was described as new and unused by the Defense Logistics Agency in response to a question from Congress.
The disclosure set the stage for questions to Alan Estevez, the principal deputy under-secretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology, and Logistics at the Defense Department.
“What in the world are we doing buying things that we’re not using? And isn’t that a fundamental problem that you need to get at before we even talk about whether all this stuff is being used appropriately . . . or being used in a way that makes sense?" McCaskill asked. “I guarantee you the stuff you’re giving away you’re continuing to buy. I guarantee it. So tell me how that happens?"
In response, Estevez said that as the military's “force structure changes, as our budget changes, things that we thought we would need, were no longer needed.” Estevez added that things such as medical kits and other non-tactical equipment may no longer be needed as the military draws down its forces.
In response, McCaskill warned Estevez that “what’s going to drive me crazy is when I figure out that what you gave away last year, you bought this year.”
Then, pressing Estevez about the program’s apparent lack of oversight, McCaskill gave examples she said showed that the 1033 program was out of control in some of what it gives to police departments. A sheriff’s office in Oklahoma with one full-time officer has received two armored vehicles known as MRAPs since 2011, she said. And a Michigan police department, also with only one full-time officer, received 13 military assault weapons since 2011, she said.
“How in the world can anyone say that this program has one lick of oversight if those two things are in existence?” she asked.
Estevez said he would have to look into the details of the examples. But he said the rule of thumb is to match requests to the size and need of any particular police department. McCaskill said her office had a long list of police departments that have received equipment that exceeds the number of officers by several times. She said the Defense Department needed to investigate such discrepancies.
McCaskill said that in every state but Hawaii, police departments have more MRAPs than do the National Guard units in those states. She also said that state and local police departments have lost 450 guns received from the 1033 program.
Last month, President Barack Obama ordered a review of the programs involved in helping local law enforcement agencies to acquire such equipment. All three of the officials who testified before the committee said that their departments had already participated in meetings at the White House to review how the programs work.
McCaskill plans to conduct more hearings and is considering legislation to address problems in the programs. Any legislative initiative probably would not be introduced before January, when members of the 114th Congress are sworn into office.