As a reporter who has covered the Defense Department for years, I’m fairly accustomed to questionable redactions in official reports.
But the extent to which black ink stained the Pentagon Inspector General’s recent review of the Army’s XM25 airburst weapon caught even me by surprise.
My colleague Matthew Cox wrote a story about the document, which — when you try to make sense of it despite all of its black holes — basically concludes the Army needs to make a decision about what it wants to do with the semi-automatic, shoulder-fired weapon that fires 25mm high-explosive, air-bursting ammunition.
That is to say, the service needs either to figure out how to incorporate the so-called Punisher into infantry units and start buying it — or cancel the program.
But for the purposes of this post, I’d like to highlight this section from Cox’s story that sums up just how redaction-happy Army officials were when they took out their black markers to color on the report:
While the IG said the service’s decision to extend the development effort and XM25 research caused costs to climb between February 2013 and March 2016, it failed to specify any actual dollar amounts.
Indeed, the report was heavily redacted, with blacked-out figures not only for cost increases but also quantities, including how many XM25s the Army intends to field as part of its basis of issue plan.
When asked why such important information was redacted, Bridget Ann Serchak, spokeswoman for the Inspector General’s office, said the Army — as part of routine practice — was allowed to decide what information it wanted classified as “for official use only” and thus not released in the IG report.
Here is but a sampling of the many ridiculous redactions rampant throughout the report:
“Army officials extended the development effort and XM25 research, development, test, and evaluation costs have increased from [BLACKED OUT] between February 2013 and March 2016 — a [BLACKED OUT] increase.”
“As a result, the Army has no assurance that the estimated procurement quantity of [BLACKED OUT] systems, at an estimated cost of [BLACKED OUT], is valid.”
“The Commanding General recommended changing the basis of issue plan from [BLACKED OUT]. MCOE officials stated that implementing the General’s recommendation would have reduced the estimated XM25 procurement quantity to approximately [BLACKED OUT].”
Here is what one actually looks like:
Remember, basic information about cost and quantity of Pentagon acquisition systems is entirely releasable. Indeed, the Pentagon regularly furnishes this information about the nearly $400 billion F-35 Joint Strike Fighter — its most expensive weapons system — and numerous other platforms. These are, after all, systems funded by taxpayer dollars.
So why wouldn’t the Army let the Pentagon IG release the same information about a relatively small weapons system? And why wouldn’t the IG — which is supposed to be an independent entity responsible for ferreting out waste, fraud and abuse at the department — push back, overrule the Army and release such information?
Good questions. We asked and were told to submit a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA).
We fully intend to do that, by the way. We also plan to dig into the budget documents to see what turns up there.