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Project on Government Oversight




The Army's Stryker: A Troublesome Mix of Revolving Door and Rush to Deploy

January 6, 2004 


With new focus on the revolving door between the Pentagon and defense contractors, another case deserves further scrutiny: The January 2000 hiring of former Army Lt. General David K. Heebner by General Dynamics Corp., and the subsequent award 11 months later of a $4 billion contract to General Dynamics to build the Army's Stryker Interim Armored Vehicle. POGO has learned that the Pentagon's top independent tester warned the Secretary of Defense that the vehicle should not be deployed in Iraq because it is vulnerable to rocket propelled grenades.

As one of Army Chief of Staff General Eric Shinseki's top assistants, Heebner played a significant role in drumming up procurement funding and support for Shinseki's plan to transform the Army, which included the Stryker. In October 1999, only three months before Heebner retired, Shinseki's "Army Vision" statement called for an interim armored brigade: "We are prepared to move to an all-wheel formation as soon as technology permits." General Dynamics' primary competitor and an unsuccessful bidder for the Stryker contract, United Defense, primarily manufactures tracked armored vehicles.

Heebner was present for the April 2002 rollout in Alabama of the first Stryker. At that ceremony, Heebner was among those thanked by Shinseki in a speech. A transcript of the speech, originally on the Army's website, has since been removed.

Heebner's hiring by General Dynamics was formally announced by the company on November 20, 1999, more than a month prior to Heebner's official retirement date of December 31, 1999. The Stryker contract was awarded in November of 2000. It is not clear precisely when Heebner began employment negotiations with General Dynamics or if he recused himself from any dealings on the Stryker contract while dicussing employment with the defense contractor. Federal conflict of interest laws and regulations prohibit government employees from participating "personally and substantially in a particular matter in which an organization they are negotiating with, or have an arrangement with for future employment, has a financial interest." (18 U.S.C. § 208)

The Heebner controversy was first disclosed on the website in a story written by Lonnie T. Shoultz, a Vietnam combat veteran and former Army paratrooper and Green Beret.

Heebner is currently Senior Vice President of Planning and Development for General Dynamics. Since going to work for General Dynamics, the retired Assistant Vice Chief of Staff for the Army has been promoted and has acquired General Dynamics stock currently valued at more than $1.2 million, according to documents filed with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. Heebner was "awarded" 4,000 shares of General Dynamics stock valued at $169,000 on March 1, 2000, only two months after going to work for the company. He reported five insider and restricted shareholder transactions acquisitions between January 2002 and March 2003, bringing his total stake in General Dynamics to 13,643 shares of company stock. General Dynamics stock closed at $89.39 per share on Monday, January 5, 2004.

Meanwhile, General Dynamics' contract with its partner, General Motors, to build 2,131 Strykers for the Army has weathered a storm of quiet controversy. In recent weeks, Strykers have been deployed to Iraq's hazardous Sunni Triangle - despite a warning by the Pentagon's chief tester that the eight-wheeled armored vehicle is vulnerable to rocket propelled grenades and improvised explosive devices, both of which are commonly being used against U.S. forces. Indeed, the Stryker has already failed to protect soldiers from one of these weapons. On December 13, a Stryker passed over an improvised explosive device planted in a road in Iraq. The device detonated, injuring a soldier who barely managed to escape as fire engulfed the engine compartment.

POGO has confirmed that the warning came from Tom Christie, the Pentagon's Director of Operational Testing and Evaluation, who sent a classified letter to the Secretary of Defense warning that the nearly $3 million a copy Stryker was not ready for deployment in Iraq. The Army, however, disagreed and went ahead with the deployment of the first of six planned Stryker brigades. The Army said the 300 armored vehicles and 3,500 soldiers and other personnel in the unit were badly needed in Iraq, according to a source.

Ideally, the Stryker brigades would be deployed by C-130 aircraft anywhere in the world within 96 hours. However, several studies have questioned whether the Stryker can be deployed via C-130 aircraft, much less within 96 hours, and critics, including the General Accounting Office (see December 2003 GAO report: Military Transformation: The Army and OSD Met Legislative Requirements for First Stryker Brigade Design Evaluation, but Issues Remain for Future Brigades. GAO-04-188, December 12 Highlights) point to design, maintenance, and training problems. Some of those problems and the increasing cost of testing and building the Strykers caused the Pentagon last year to consider delaying a decision to fund the fifth and sixth Stryker brigades. However, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld was ultimately overruled by Congress.

"Based on the circumstances surrounding General Heebner's hiring and compensation, and internal Pentagon warnings about the armored vehicle's vulnerability, further investigation of the Stryker program is required," said POGO Senior Defense Investigator Eric Miller.

Founded in 1981, the Project On Government Oversight (POGO) is a nonpartisan independent watchdog that champions good government reforms. POGO's investigations into corruption, misconduct, and conflicts of interest achieve a more effective, accountable, open, and ethical federal government.

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