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Rocket Racket

Biff Baker blew the whistle on abuse in the U.S. missile-defense program. Then, he got fired for it.



The national missile-defense system is supposed to protect America against a nuclear attack. Biff Baker's job was to protect American taxpayers against getting ripped off by the agencies and contractors developing the system.

When he did his job too well, he says, he was fired.

Now, federal investigators are looking into Baker's allegations that agencies working on the missile-defense program are engaging in fraud, waste and abuse.

Baker of Colorado Springs, claims the Pentagon's Missile Defense Agency and the Army Space and Missile Defense Command have been awarding sole-source contracts to a defense contracting company run by a retired high-ranking general, who at one point served as assistant vice chief of staff for the Army.

This, Baker maintains, not only raises questions about business dealings between current and retired command staff, but also violates federal regulations that require contracts to be awarded through a competitive bid process.

Baker, himself a former Army Space Command lieutenant colonel, says he discovered the questionable practices in late 2001 and early this year while working as a civilian employee on the missile-defense program. When he brought his concerns to the attention of a high-ranking missile-defense official in March, slanderous rumors about his personal character began circulating within days, he says.

Eight days later, he was fired.

At the very least, Baker maintains, the Department of Defense violated federal whistleblower laws, which prohibit retaliation against government employees who report official wrongdoing.

At worst, he claims, current and former military officers have conspired to misappropriate tens of millions of dollars in taxpayer money.

Two U.S. senators have expressed strong interest in Baker's allegations, including Sen. Wayne Allard, R-Colo., who has asked for inquiries into the matter by the General Accounting Office, the investigative arm of Congress; and the Department of Defense's Office of the Inspector General.

"Obviously, we think it's very serious," Allard said.

Bang for the buck

A West Point graduate, Baker spent 22 years as an Army officer before retiring in August 2000. He rose to the rank of lieutenant colonel and, in his last assignment, served as director of plans for the Army Space Command in Colorado Springs, one of the main agencies involved in developing a future missile-defense system.

After retiring, Baker went to work on a doctoral degree and began teaching at Colorado Technical University in the Springs.

Last fall, he received an offer to return to the missile-defense program, this time as an employee of Huntsville, Alabama-based COLSA Corp., a subcontractor working for the Department of Defense.

Baker's work was with COLSA's Independent Assessment Team, whose job was to inspect the work being done on a major segment of the missile-defense program, called Ground-based Midcourse Defense. The work on the GMD program is performed by Chicago-based defense giant Boeing under a $1.6-billion umbrella contract, and by numerous subcontractors.

Baker says his job was to make sure contractors did the work right, on time and on budget, and that taxpayers were getting the most bang for their bucks.

"I joined that job because I thought I could make a difference," Baker said. "I wanted the best system for the taxpayers."

For the most part, Baker found that work was being done by the book. But he would eventually discover a handful of contract arrangements that "smelled of shenanigans." Each of them involved work being performed by SY Technology, a California-based defense contractor with offices in several locations, including Colorado Springs.

Another thing the arrangements had in common was that each involved a contract being negotiated on a sole-source basis, rather than through competitive bidding.

SY Technology is run by retired three-star Gen. Jay Garner, who from 1994 to 1996 served as commander of the Space and Missile Defense Command outside Washington, D.C. The command does much of its missile-defense development work in Huntsville, Ala. and Colorado Springs.

Garner subsequently served as assistant vice chief of staff for the Army until his retirement in August 1997, after which he went to work as president of SY Technology.

SY Technology declined to discuss the contracts and work that Baker claims were improperly awarded to the company. "SY Technology is, for any number of reasons ... uninterested in debating legal and somewhat complicated issues in the newspapers," said Mike Fees, a Huntsville attorney representing the firm.

Double dipping

Baker says he was first alerted to the questionable contract arrangements in late December of 2001.

That month, the Space and Missile Defense Command announced that it intended to award SY Technology a five-year contract in the amount of $48 million for work on a portion of the missile-defense program known as the Site Activation Command, which will be responsible for the physical deployment of missile-defense systems.

The Space and Missile Defense Command indicated the contract was being negotiated on a sole-source basis because SY Technology was uniquely qualified to do the work. Baker disputes the notion, saying dozens of other contractors were equally qualified. By law, the work should have been put out for competitive bidding, Baker maintains.

Moreover, the announcement, posted on an official government contracting Web site, stated that SY Technology was being selected for the work as a "small business," under a set-aside provision in federal contracting laws. While it was technically a small business at the time, SY Technology was in the process of being acquired by a large New York-based holding company, L-3 Communications.

The proposed contract award has subsequently been contested by a rival defense contractor, DESE Research of Huntsville, which has threatened to take the matter to court.

Baker says he made his next discovery in January, when Boeing employees complained to him that SY Technology was also performing work that was supposed to be done by Boeing under its "umbrella" contract.

The employees told him both companies were being paid for the same work, consisting of training soldiers on how to use the computers and software that will eventually be the "brains" of the missile-defense system -- which, if it is ever deployed, will track and attempt to shoot down enemy ballistic missiles.

"The Department of Defense was being double-billed," Baker said. SY technology, he claims, was "double-dipping."

Waste to taxpayers

According to Baker, the work was subsequently taken away from Boeing entirely and given to SY Technology. Though he couldn't get a copy of SY Technology's contract, Baker says he believes it's valued at $20 million annually.

A spokeswoman for Boeing, Linda James, refused to comment on any aspect of Baker's allegations.

"If indeed this is under investigation, Boeing's policy would be not to discuss it with the press," James said.

However, a Boeing employee, who spoke on condition of anonymity, confirmed part of Baker's account. "It's a fact that there was some training work that Boeing was under contract to do, and that was given to SY Technology to do, and our contract was changed," the employee said.

Baker says the contract was awarded by the Missile Defense Agency, a Pentagon office that serves as an "executive agent" for the missile-defense program by channeling funds to various commands working on the program. The agency -- which supplied only limited written answers to questions about Baker's claims -- said it's not correct that all work on the Ground-based Midcourse Defense program is to be done through Boeing. The government uses multiple contractors who sometimes do "parallel" work, it said.

"Boeing is not the only contractor working on this program," the agency maintained in a written statement.

However, in a previous telephone interview, agency spokesman Col. Rick Lehner said, "Boeing's responsible for doing all the work on GMD."

Baker also raised questions about the facility where soldiers were trained to use missile-defense computers and software, a place called the User Lab, located at SY Technology's Colorado Springs offices.

The User Lab opened its doors in January 2000 with an annual budget that Baker estimates at $3 million. It has since grown to perhaps $10 million, he believes. All of this is a waste to taxpayers, because Army Space Command already had a facility that served the same purposes, which it operated for about $150,000 per year, Baker maintains. And again, no one besides SY Technology was allowed to bid on the User Lab, he says.

The details of Baker's allegations could not be confirmed due to SY Technology's refusal to comment on them, and the failure of Space and Missile Defense Command officials to respond to most questions from the Independent. The command provided only a one-sentence, written reply in which it denied any intention to contract with SY Technology on the Site Activation Command work.

"The U.S. Army Space and Missile Defense Command has not issued a contract, nor do we intend to issue one, for 'development, deployment, operation and sustainment of the Site Activation Command,'" the agency said in its written statement.

While agency officials did not make themselves available to explain what that means, the government's contracting Web site now states that "funds are not currently available" for the contract and that "no contract award will be made until appropriated funds are made available."

"Just totally shocked."

Baker says he passed along his concerns, and other minor findings, in regular reports to the Missile Defense Agency's Washington headquarters. However, he never heard back about his concerns.

"I was shocked that I wasn't getting a response," Baker said. "Just totally shocked."

He began to suspect that his reports weren't making it to the top levels of the agency.

On March 7, Baker seized an opportunity to speak with Gen. John W. Holly, a one-star general in charge of the Ground-based Midcourse Defense program office at the agency. Baker attended a speech that Holly was giving at Schriever Air Force Base. Afterward, Baker, who had prepared a letter to Holly that described his concerns about improper contracting practices, approached the general, struck up a conversation and handed him the letter.

He recalls that Holly praised him for his work and promised him that his job would not be in jeopardy for blowing the whistle.

But shortly after, strange things began to happen. On March 11, Ken Grant, who was Baker's boss at the COLSA subcontracting company, called him to inquire about rumors that Baker had harassed a female employee working for one of the contractors in the program. Baker says he had "no clue" what Grant was talking about.

The female employee in question, Jennifer Brittenham, also told the Independent that Baker had never harassed her. "The truth is, he did not harass me in any way," she said.

After a few conversations, Baker says, he was able to clear things up, and he assumed it had all been a misunderstanding. But then, on March 13, Grant called him again, asking about rumors that Baker had somehow angered three Army colonels by behaving inappropriately. Again, Baker says, he was surprised. He had never met two of the three colonels in question, he says. And once again, Baker says, he was able to clear things up in the course of a few conversations, and everything seemed fine.

Then, on the morning of March 15, Baker says he received another phone call from Grant. This time, he says, he was told he'd been taken off the missile-defense contract. He was instructed not to go to work and told to turn in his security credentials and his keys to COLSA's local headquarters, where his office and his work computer were located.

Baker says Grant told him the orders came from Thomas DeVanney, a deputy to Gen. Holly. Two days later, Baker says, Grant called again -- this time from a pay phone -- and told Baker he'd been "under a lot of pressure" to get rid of him, and that the orders had originated from Holly himself.

Grant declined to comment on the circumstances of Baker's departure, citing the fact that the matter is under federal investigation. However, he praised Baker. "He was a productive employee," Grant said. "He did good work. He did everything I asked him to do and more. I found him to be honest, forthright and congenial."

A March 15 e-mail message from Grant to Baker supports the notion that outside pressures were involved. "I am also angry and feel I have let you down," Grant wrote. "I should have been able to protect you, but could not. ... You were not fired from COLSA. We were directed to have you stop charging to the GMD contract."

The Missile Defense Agency, in a written statement, denied the agency had been involved. "The information we have is that Mr. Baker resigned from his job with [COLSA]," the agency's statement read. "We cannot comment on personnel actions taken by private firms. ... No MDA official played any role in Mr. Baker's current status with his company."

Baker did indeed resign from COLSA -- but that was after he had been taken off the missile-defense contract, which was the only work he was being paid to do, he notes.

The Missile Defense Agency, meanwhile, claims in its written statement that Holly "immediately referred Mr. Baker's allegations to the DoD IG [the Department of Defense Inspector General]," and that "Holly also appointed a member of his staff to look into Mr. Baker's allegations of fraud, waste and abuse. This evaluation is still underway."

The battering ram

Many details of the government contracts, including budgets and timelines, could not be officially verified, due to the refusal of SY Technology to discuss Baker's allegations, and the very limited statements from military agencies regarding his claims.

Individuals with insider knowledge of the issue did, for the most part, also refuse to comment, several of them expressing unease about the topic. And most of Baker's documentation was on a computer hard drive to which he lost access upon being fired, he says.

However, his claims that missile-defense contracts are being improperly awarded are backed by an attorney representing one of SY Technology's contracting rivals, DESE Research of Huntsville. The attorney, Howell Roger Riggs, has been trying to build a legal case against SY Technology, claiming that a cozy relationship between SY Technology and the Space and Missile Defense Command is putting DESE out of business.

Riggs has presented in court the controversial allegation that Garner is receiving "payoff" for supporting his successors at the Space and Missile Defense Command during a lengthy feud between the command and U.S. Sen. Bob Smith, a New Hampshire Republican, which came to a head last year.

The fight was over the future of a proposed project known as the Kinetic Energy Anti-Satellite weapon, an orbiting "battering ram" designed to knock enemy satellites out of the sky. Successive leaders of Space and Missile Defense Command -- beginning with Gen. Garner -- had lost faith in the weapon's potential and tried to halt its development. Smith, who still believed in the project, fought their efforts and in 2000 asked the General Accounting Office to examine whether they had taken funds intended for the project and diverted them to other uses. The accounting office found that the command had indeed misspent some of the funds.

In another move, Smith also used his powers to temporarily block the retirement of one of Garner's successors at the command, Gen. John Costello.

Smith's interventions angered Garner, who by then had become president of SY Technology. Garner later lashed out at Smith, in an August 2001 article in the National Journal, in which he accused Smith of having abused the powers of his office.

In February of this year, Riggs suggested in U.S. District Court in Alabama that the sole-source Site Activation Command contract being negotiated with SY Technology was "payoff" for Garner's show of loyalty to Costello and his old command.

Though retired general officers are banned from soliciting business from their former commands, SY Technology has received lucrative contracts from the Space and Missile Defense Command since Garner joined the firm. According to the company's own Web site, its annual revenues have more than quadrupled since the former general joined, from $14 million in 1997 to $65 million last year.

The two generals who have headed the Space and Missile Defense Command during most of that time -- Costello and the current commander, Gen. Joseph Cosumano -- have both been close personal friends of Garner's for at least 20 years, Garner testified in a court deposition in February. Riggs provided the Independent with portions of the official transcript from the deposition.

Riggs' allegation that Garner may be receiving "payoff" is the sole aspect of this story on which SY Technology would comment. Mike Fees, the company's attorney, dismissed the accusation.

"It simply is not so," Fees said.

Riggs' allegation should be viewed in light of the fact that he's litigating against SY Technology, Fees suggested.

"The role of a lawyer in a lawsuit is often to advocate positions and articulate arguments that a judge often determines are illegitimate and lack merit," Fees said. "We believe that the judge will do that in this case."

In his February deposition, Garner himself denied using personal relationships to land contracts.

"I do not go to my friends for business," Garner said, according to the transcript. "I get business from my friends, but it's not solicited by me. It's given to us because of the quality of our company."

Deja vu

In another twist to the story, a civilian employee who worked on the anti-satellite weapon project for the Space and Missile Defense Command, Steve Tiwari, said he was also subjected to allegations of harassment in retaliation for going up against missile-defense commanders.

Tiwari, who shared Sen. Smith's enthusiasm for the anti-satellite weapons project, has claimed that he was pressured by his commanders to oppose it. He refused. In 1999, he was accused of sexually harassing a female co-worker and of misappropriating funds. Like Biff Baker, he was taken off his project.

The allegations were "absolutely, totally false," says Riggs, who also represents Tiwari.

After several investigations, Tiwari was eventually cleared and put back on the project, which ended up being transferred to another military agency. Tiwari, who is of Asian descent, is now suing the government, claiming racial discrimination.

Riggs, commenting on the parallels between Tiwari's case and Baker's, says he believes people at the Space and Missile Defense Command "engage in a pattern of using these kinds of investigations to destroy the careers of civilians who don't toe the line."

A member of Smith's staff, who is also familiar with Tiwari's case, recently met with Baker. The staff member, who requested anonymity, says he was struck by the similarities in how the two were treated.

"It was almost hearing the same story from a different individual," the staff member said.

Working very hard

Since being fired, Baker has contacted numerous federal agencies and politicians, asking for a thorough investigation into missile-defense contracting practices. He has met with Sen. Allard, whose staff confirmed last week that it is still looking into Baker's allegations.

"We have been working very hard on that case," said Sean Conway, Allard's press secretary. Allard's office has asked the General Accounting Office and the Department of Defense Inspector General to investigate, and the various offices have had "numerous phone conversations" with one another about the case, Conway said.

Baker received a preliminary response from the Inspector General's office on May 31, stating that he wasn't entitled to whistleblower protection under federal law because he worked for a subcontractor, not a prime contractor. The federal whistleblower law "only protects employees of prime contractors," wrote Jane Deese, the office's director of special inquiries.

However, Deese wrote, Baker's allegations of fraud, waste and abuse have been forwarded to other Pentagon agencies for further investigation.

Baker says he also repeatedly contacted Colorado Springs Congressman Joel Hefley, but received no response. Hefley's failure to ever acknowledge his correspondence prompted Baker to decide that he would challenge Hefley in this fall's election, Baker says. He is now running against the Republican Hefley as a Libertarian.

Hefley -- who received $2,000 in campaign contributions from SY Technology executives in 1998, according to the Center for Responsive Politics -- also declined to comment to the Independent.

Meanwhile, staff in Sen. Smith's office are watching the matter with great interest, said the staff member who met with Baker.

"The more we hear, it doesn't sound right what's going on down there," he said, referring to the Space and Missile Defense Command's operations in Huntsville. "We want a fair review of the practices going on down there."

Baker, who resumed teaching part-time at Colorado Technical University, says he isn't suing anyone or seeking any compensation. All he's asking for, he says, is a thorough review of missile-defense contracting practices, and accountability for anyone who may have broken the law.

"I'm morally offended that the taxpayers are being screwed out of all this money," Baker said.

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