Watchdogs Take Bite Out of Procurement Fraud
March 18, 2009
- With millions of dollars at stake, they must be ever vigilant to ensure that what the contract calls for is what is actually being done.
- When all these big buying commands go out and purchase tanks, helicopters or equipment, we are the watchdog for the Army.
- We're here to protect taxpayer dollars and Soldiers' lives.
The organizations at Redstone deal with a lot of contracts, as both supplier and receiver. With millions of dollars at stake, they must be ever vigilant to ensure that what the contract calls for is what is actually being done. When it looks like something isn't right, the Huntsville Fraud Resident Agency of the Criminal Investigation Division is there to help.
"When all these big buying commands go out and purchase tanks, helicopters or equipment, we are the watchdog for the Army," Jim Wallis, resident agent in charge, said.
Dealing mainly in major procurement fraud, the Huntsville Fraud Resident Agency of CID is in building 3421 on Gray Road, right next to the badging and decal office. They are a part of the Army CID Command's 701st military police group of investigators. Years ago, the agency shifted to a civilian work force from a military one within the 701st because of the nature of their work.
"With military cycling out every three years, it's tough for someone new to come in to a case," Wallis said. "An investigation can take five, six or seven years. There can be several file cabinets full of documents for each case."
The paperwork alone that must be gone through carefully for any investigation can be immense. If the contract under investigation spans several years, the mountain is even higher. For the original agent who began the investigation to be able to see it through to its conclusion saves time, manpower and prevents what could be vital information from slipping through the cracks.
"You don't want to lose the expertise on it," Wallis said.
The Huntsville Agency averages 30 ongoing investigations at a time. Investigations begin in several ways. Sometimes a program manager or contracting office notices that what they are receiving isn't exactly what they were supposed to get. Sometimes an employee sees corners being cut. Occasionally a tip about a kickback or bid fixing will be called in. Every once in a while it is a rumor of bribes.
Once their investigation has been completed, the information they have gathered and possible evidence is passed on to the U.S. attorney's office or the Justice Department. The determination is then made by them whether to pursue the case criminally or civilly. Both have their benefits.
"If it can be traced back to an individual or conspiracy then usually they will pursue it criminally," Wallis said. "If it is a company then it's easier to go after it on the civil side. They can recoup up to triple damages."
While the jurisdiction of the Huntsville office is limited regionally to Alabama and Tennessee, the need the agents fulfill is not. Each of the six agents within the office has spent time deployed to Iraq or Afghanistan, performing similar duties for the Army along with agents from other regional offices.
"There are lots of companies doing business with the Army over there," Wallis said. "Unfortunately for us, we're dealing more with bribery and kickbacks."
Procurement fraud doesn't just affect the bottom line on a spreadsheet. Its costs can also be in the lives of Soldiers, incalculable in dollars and cents.
"We start with whether or not there's a safety hazard," Wallis said. "If there is then the helicopter, or whatever it is, will have to be grounded."
They also deal with, in a smaller portion, fraud allegations stemming from construction and services at Redstone.
"We usually get involved when it's a million dollar contract and there's $100,000 worth of damages for the government," Wallis said. "We may get involved when it's a smaller scale, depending on what it is."
One of the most valuable tools investigating agents can be given is specific information. When a tip comes in dealing with concrete details, it can shave valuable time off an investigation. Wallis urges anyone coming forward with information to be as specific as possible.
"It helps to know where to start," he said. "If you're looking at a multimillion dollar contract that has been going on for years, specifics are great."
Tips to the Huntsville Agency remain confidential. Tipsters can also remain anonymous. They can be submitted through e-mail, by phone or in person, whatever the person is comfortable with.
To report possible procurement fraud, contact the Huntsville Fraud Resident Agency by phone at 876-9457, e-mail them at CID113.Huntsville@us.army.mil or visit their Gray Road location.
"We're here to protect taxpayer dollars and Soldiers' lives," Wallis said.