Carney: Maker of Recalled Army Helmets Ceases Production
Under pressure from Congressman Chris Carney (PA-10) over problems producing military helmets, Federal Prison Industries (also known as UNICOR) has suspended helmet manufacturing and agreed to waive the preferential status that gives it first right of refusal on helmet contracts with the U.S. government. Federal Prison Industries, which employs prisoners, is one of the largest military helmet manufacturers in the country and was the producer of the 44,000 helmets that the Army recalled two weeks ago. The development comes in response to an amendment to the Defense Authorization Act offered by Congressman Carney this week that would have forced FPI to use competitive bidding procedures in the wake of multiple problems the company has had meeting ballistic standards testing and as the Department of Justice investigates its helmet manufacturing.
"Our military men and women deserve only the best equipment and it has become clear that Federal Prison Industries cannot meet the standards required in manufacturing helmets," Congressman Carney said. "I am pleased that FPI has suspended its helmet operations. We are at war and one of the most basic parts of a soldier's protective gear is the helmet. Federal Prison Industries has not met protective standards nor has it met required deadlines in its production of these crucial helmets and we can't wait any longer to protect our troops."
Congressman Carney was informed of FPI's decision to suspend helmet production hours before consideration of amendments on the Defense Authorization Act was to begin.
"With the concurrence of the chairman and the board of directors at FPI, we are voluntarily imposing upon ourselves the same restrictions contemplated by the Carney amendment, thereby obviating the need for any legislative action on this matter," wrote Federal Bureau of Prisons Assistant Director Paul M. Laird in a letter to the House Judiciary Committee's subpanel on crime, terrorism and homeland security, which has jurisdiction over the Carney amendment. The Federal Bureau of Prisons oversees FPI, which employs prison inmates.
Earlier this week, Congressman Carney learned that the 44,000 helmets that the Army recalled this month were produced by FPI. The Army awarded the contract to produce the helmets to ArmorSource LLC, who subsequently subcontracted to Federal Prison Industries, which employs prisoners. The recall was initiated May 14 because the Advanced Combat Helmets failed to meet ballistic testing standards.
Meanwhile, Federal Prison Industries is already behind schedule on production of helmets under two separate contracts with the military and the Department of Justice is investigating the company's helmet production. In 2007 the Army awarded Federal Prison Industries a contract to produce 600,000 Advanced Combat Helmets, more than half of the Army's needs. This contract was awarded on a non-competitive basis to FPI pursuant to a provision in the U.S. procurement regulations that gives FPI the first right of refusal on contracts with the U.S. government.
Also, in 2008, FPI was awarded another ballistic helmet contract, this time for the delivery of 100,000 Lightweight Helmets for the U.S. Marine Corps. This represented 100 percent of the Marine Corps needs and effectively shut out private industry from supplying this product.
Congressman Carney's office learned that under both of those contracts, Federal Prison Industries has failed to pass first article testing, the process to ensure the equipment meets specifications. Both contracts were more than 18 months past due without a single acceptable helmet being delivered.