WASHINGTON — The Navy, acknowledging widespread problems in its supply system, told Congress Tuesday that it is halting most purchases by officers aboard ships and shifting the estimated $300 million a year in procurement to shore facilities.
Testifying before the House Armed Services sea power subcommittee, Commodore James B. Whittaker, the supply system's assistant commander, also said that an internal investigation has found that "we are vulnerable" to manipulation of the system's computers by corrupt insiders.
The investigation found "a number of problems which require immediate and effective corrective action," he said. "We have learned much. We have assessed our vulnerabilities and are taking" action, including the move to transfer about 80% of purchases "away from the hectic atmosphere of day-to-day shipboard operations."
Whittaker disclosed that the Navy is conducting a "cradle-to-grave inventory" of thousands of F-14 fighter jet parts like those federal prosecutors say were stolen from the supply system and diverted to Iran in a desperate effort by the government of the Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini to keep its U.S.-made planes flying in its war against Iraq.
He said the Navy has already determined that none of the three classified parts for the F-14 and the 28 classified parts for the plane's Phoenix missile system are missing. The rest of the thousands of components for the two weapons do not have secret classifications and were not covered by the review, made after authorities in San Diego broke up the theft and smuggling ring last July.
Also last summer, California Rep. Jim Bates (D-San Diego) disclosed supply and procurement irregularities aboard the aircraft carrier Kitty Hawk. Bates relied heavily on information provided by Robert Jackson, a petty officer whose duties included auditing the ship's books.
Testifying before the subcommittee Tuesday, Jackson said: "The supply system on the Kitty Hawk is in shambles. . . . The computer system is flawed. . . . Sailors were openly selling parts for personal gain."
He said he went to Bates after the Navy refused to act on the problems he reported. "I attempted to follow the chain of command, and I found out it doesn't work," he testified. He also said that the Navy attempted to send him back to sea on the carrier even after shipmates had threatened his life.
'$20,000 in the Hole'
Jackson was honorably discharged a month ago and said he has been unable to pay the attorneys who have helped him generate investigations of Kitty Hawk irregularities.
"I'm $20,000 in the hole for being an honest American. . . . I'm penniless," he lamented.
The subcommittee chairman, Rep. Charles E. Bennett (D-Fla.), praised Jackson for "plugging away against a solid wall of apathy." And another member, California Rep. Duncan L. Hunter (R-Coronado), assailed Navy officers for distributing to reporters a copy of a letter they said Jackson wrote two weeks ago to friends on the Kitty Hawk, boasting that when he testified "Congress will eat it up" and that he might receive an award from President Reagan.
Hunter said the Navy was attempting to discredit Jackson through leaks to the press. "I don't think that is an appropriate way for the Navy to operate," he said. "You are demeaning this proceeding."
'Voluntarily Made Available'
A copy of the letter bore the notation that it was "voluntarily made available" to the Kitty Hawk's officers by the individuals who received it. One of Jackson's lawyers, Randy Whaley, said the Navy's disclosure of the letter was "an attempt to slander Bob Jackson."
Meanwhile, the chief of naval operations, Adm. James D. Watkins, said in a letter Tuesday to Sen. Pete Wilson (R-Calif.) that seven of Jackson's 11 allegations of wrongdoing on the Kitty Hawk were not substantiated by the Navy's internal investigation.
"Four were found to have a degree of merit," he wrote. "I am not proud of our record, but I am pleased to tell you that while we found individual and systemic shortcomings, we found absolutely no evidence of fraud or of any individual seeking personal monetary gain."
He said he is moving to correct "a mind-set that says achievement of readiness in the short term is such an overriding goal that it justifies bending, even breaking, the rules. . . . We have to change that attitude."