SANDPOINT, IDAHO — THE acoustic research portion of the United States Navy's Seawolf submarine project is under attack here, charged with waste, fraud, and abuse. The Seawolf will be the first new US attack submarine in 18 years.
Two Idaho congressmen say Navy investigators have substantiated part of a list of allegations against a contractor and government researchers at the Navy's acoustic research base at Bayview, Idaho. The Navy has been testing submarine silencing equipment here at the southern end of Lake Pend Oreille since World War II. The lake at Bayview is 1,180 feet deep.
Involved in the probe is ``a very sensitive security-shrouded military device that has been, by some employees' estimates, mismanaged from the standpoint of security breaches, general inefficiencies, lack of concern for quality tests, and cost overruns,'' says US Rep. Larry Craig (R) of Idaho.
Congressman Craig and Sen. Steve Symms (R) also of Idaho were approached last fall by several present and former employees of Tracor Inc., a contractor at the research base. Their complaints and allegations have been the subject of an eight-month investigation that, according to congressional aides, is now nearing completion.
Sources close to the probe, who have requested anonymity, say the charges focus on Tracor and the base personnel overseeing Tracor.
``Although it is inappropriate for me to comment on the facts determined thus far, be advised the investigation has substantiated several of the allegations,'' Rear Adm. M.E. Chang of the Naval Inspector General's office wrote on Jan. 30 to Senator Symms.
Admiral Chang stated that there were allegations of fraud, waste, abuse, and mismanagement. Copies of the admiral's letter were recently released to two newspapers in the area.
But officials at Tracor's headquarters in Austin, Texas, say they have found no reason for concern.
``In response to employee concerns last year, Tracor completed its own in-depth investigation ... last fall and did not find any evidence of any Tracor employee wrongdoing,'' said Judith Newby, Tracor's corporate vice-president for public relations.
Tracor Applied Sciences, a subsidiary, has the operation and maintenance contract for the Seawolf sub at Bayview.
Base manager George Guedel referred all questions to his supervisors at the David Taylor Research Center in Carderock, Md.
``It's still ongoing and we can't respond until it's completed,'' Ellen Shapiro, the Taylor Center's spokeswoman, says of the probe.
In his letter to Symms, Chang assured the senator that there is no ``cover-up'' and that any wrongdoers ``will be held accountable for their actions.'' He told Symms then to expect a report on the probe by late March.
BUT the Navy inspector general's office says investigators missed an internal March 27 due date for the report and have yet to seek an extension.
In a recent note to Craig, a naval investigator said the probe is continuing.
``The matter is complex and a thorough review is required. The investigation is pending further inquiry by the Naval Investigative Service and will be subject to review by the both the Space and Naval Warfare Systems Command and the Naval Inspector General,'' the investigator at the Taylor research center wrote.
Submarine silencing researchers at Bayview have been working for about a year and a half on a 90-foot-long scale model of the Seawolf. Nicknamed ``Kokanee,'' it is propelled by an electric motor.
The first 326-foot, 9,150-ton Seawolf attack sub is scheduled for launch in 1994. Last January, General Dynamics's Electric Boat Division in Groton, Conn., was awarded a $726 million ``fixed price incentive'' contract to build that vessel.
Whistle blowers, who asked to remain anonymous, say that on top of contractor violations, the Navy is struggling with a submarine model that works poorly. Taylor center spokeswoman Shapiro, however, says the model is now working well after initial adjustments.