In Press: Fat Leonard Is Still With Us

by admin on April 10, 2016

Leonard-Francis-0918Though it is now back-page news, the Glenn Defense Marine/Fat Leonard scandal is still with us.

Greg Moran, of the San Diego Union Tribune, has been doing a great service, following this case as it winds through the local courts, transforming from a paper-selling “prostitutes and corruption” scandal to less exciting court-reporter fare. But somewhere in this story–back when the Glenn Defense Marine scandal was front-page news–Greg put in some FOIA requests for documents that are, now, getting granted.

They are interesting:

The 69-page report from the Naval Audit Service found widespread problems in how the Navy administers contracts for port services. Because of those weaknesses, auditors concluded the Navy can’t be sure it received full value on all of the servicing contracts it examined, which totaled $686 million.

I’ve talked about this clash of competing waterfront cultures before, here, so Mr. Moran called to chat:

Craig Hooper, a defense analyst who has followed the “Fat Leonard” scandal, said the audit identified a longstanding problem as the Navy has turned more toward contractors, and not provided enough scrutiny over them.

“We’ve had this process where we’ve pulled away contracting support, and said to the Navy, go out there and be forward deployed, be present in these areas,” he said. “But the support for doing that hasn’t been forward deployed to the same extent.”

He said the Navy has to be more aware of who it is dealing with.

“Getting money out of naval vessels is a science port operators have practiced for centuries,” Hooper said. “Everybody has their hand out. You have to recognize what you’re getting into is a very rapacious culture.”

port klangIn short, it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to realize that the combination of overtasked, poorly-trained (often not in country) contracting officers, pressured supply officers, and a ship that’s gotta stay forward and “on schedule” is a breeding ground for, ah, costly in-port irregularities.

Put another way, Fat Leonard could only get as fat as America’s overwhelmed and oft-downsized Navy contracting support let him get.

It isn’t like the Navy didn’t already know they were getting fleeced in Port. Everybody who had ears knew a Fat Leonard had or was going to happen–but, with an infuriating sense if inevitability, nobody did anything to prevent this from happening. In my initial blog post on this scandal, I wondered if this news was getting suppressed somewhere in the naval bureaucracy:

There are probably quite a few earnest souls out there whose careers were crushed simply for suggesting somebody do some digging. Their stories would be interesting for investigators to hear.

Turns out there were a few earnest souls out there. In the very last graf of Greg’s article there’s a hint of wider awareness of shady goings-on at the waterfront:

This was not the first audit to call attention to problems with ship servicing work. The audit noted that three previous audits in 2010 and 2013, before the Francis case broke, identified poor checks and balances and bad internal controls over such contracts.

As I suggested before, management of waterfront contracts was a known problem for years. And what did we do about it?



That is the real story. Why didn’t the Navy fix known waterfront problems? Why couldn’t the organization act on a known–and serious–deficiency? I don’t think it’s necessarily a criminal oversight. It may speak more to a lack of energy, where already overwhelmed back-office folks can’t–or won’t–change things to prevent waterfront malfeasance. An under-resourced, overtasked community that can’t say “no” will work until catastrophic failure. That failure was Fat Leonard (and some other first-round scandals-to-be-named-later).

Frankly, I think one answer to this constant problem for forward-deployed navies is to bring back large-crew tenders to help combatants beat back the highly-evolved rapacious instincts of waterfront service providers. But, hey, that’s a story for another day–for when the slow-dripping Fat Leonard scandal pops back onto the front page.

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