In an attempt to highlight the problems with the Law Enforcement Support Office (LESO) program, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) set up a fake website pretending to be a local police department. Their imaginary cop shop put in a request for surplus military equipment and the DOD did provide — no questions asked.
“Through the testing, GAO gained access to the LESO program and obtained over 100 controlled items with an estimated value of $1.2 million, including night-vision goggles, simulated rifles and simulated pipe bombs, which could be potentially lethal items if modified with commercially available items,” reads the report.
“As a private individual, we should not have had access to these items,” said GAO investigator Wayne McElrath.
The LESO program is intended to support local law enforcement agencies by supplying them with excess military hardware. This is how many agencies afford rifles, armor, vehicles and other equipment. And also, as it turns out, anyone who claims to be a police officer or agency.
On top of that, investigators used a fake address belonging to an empty lot. GAO director Zina Merritt explains. “We have law enforcement agencies who can be potential recipients of DOD excess property like militarized property, such as rifles and simulated pipe bombs and other things that have been used for training purposes that DOD no longer needs.”
“Essentially, they are able to apply and if they’re approved, they’re given a unique code in which they’re allowed to go online, view the items, and “bid” on them,” said Merritt. “If they win the items, what they do is they’re allowed to actually go to the warehouses where they’re located, and pick up the items either physically or they can have the items shipped to them. However, all the items are free; the only cost that they may incur is with transportation costs if they actually have them shipped to them.”
“[The] GAO’s testing identified that DLA has deficiencies in the processes for verification and approval of federal law enforcement agency applications and in the transfer of controlled property,” the report continues. The GAO found that the Defense Logistics Agency, who runs the program, didn’t verify the identities of the people picking up property or even verify the amount of property approved for transfers.
If that sounds like the government was caught handing out guns to anyone asking for them, it’s because it was. The report flatly states that the “DLA lacks reasonable assurance that it has the ability to prevent, detect, and respond to potential fraud and minimize associated security risks.”
“The biggest problem is that DLA’s internal control processes for this program were really broken,” said Merritt. “We found, for example, that when we applied for the program as a fake organization, no one ever even called us to verify information. They didn’t attempt to come out to the location to visit us.”
“Secondly, when the investigators went to the location, they were actually able to get the items without presenting the proper identification, she continued. “Third, they were able to get a quantity of items that wasn’t consistent with what we bid for, actually we got more items.”
“And fourth, we found that they just don’t have a framework in order to do fraud mitigation at all stages of the program. Essentially, that puts any organization at risk of this happening again.”
The DLA and DOD are already taking actions to ensure that unauthorized users aren’t taking advantage of the program. “We found that if they were to just take extra steps to verify who the applicants are, visit their locations, this would definitely help with that first stage of the process,” added Merritt. “They did start verification while we were doing our review, so that’s a good sign but they still have more to do.”
“In our view, one of these items getting in the wrong hands is one too many.”