If you’re not a US military or police buff, you probably have never heard of the 1033 Program. It essentially provides a bureaucratic means to transfer excess military grade weapons to local law enforcement agencies. Sure, you may not like local police departments having all types of military gear, such as grenade launchers, helicopters, boats, M14s, M16s, and so on.
And you probably won’t like how the agency seemingly doles out the weapons to anybody. All you have to do is apply, create a fake website, and the Defense Logistics Agency (DLA) will oblige. Law enforcement experience is not required. There doesn’t seem to be a requirement that the requesting agency actually be real, either.
That’s according to a new Government Accountability Office report. The government auditing agency created a fake website of a fake police department and applied for the surplus goods. The fake agency was handed $1.2 million in weapons, including night-vision goggles, simulated rifles, and simulated pipe bombs. The simulated rifles and pipe bombs could have been turned into “potentially lethal items if modified with commercially available items,” according to the report. Simulated weapons are used for training purposes.
The GAO even used a fake physical address—a dirt lot—for the fake law enforcement agency. According to Zina Merritt, a GAO director who coordinated the investigation, this sting operation of sorts found that the DLA did little to verify who was requesting the military leftovers and who was actually picking up the gear.
The biggest problem is that DLA’s internal control processes for this program were really broken. We found, for example, that when we applied for the program as a fake organization, no one ever even called us to verify information. They didn’t attempt to come out to the location to visit us. Secondly, when the investigators went to the location, they were actually able to get the items without presenting the proper identification. Third, they were able to get a quantity of items that wasn’t consistent with what we bid for; actually, we got more items. And fourth, we found that [the DLA] just [doesn’t] have a framework in order to do fraud mitigation at all stages of the program. Essentially, that puts any organization at risk of this happening again.
The DOD said in the report that it was taking “actions to address identified weaknesses in its excess controlled property program.”
The program has given upwards of $6 billion dollars’ worth of weapons to more than 8,600 law enforcement agencies since it started in 1991.
Some public attention on the 1033 program followed in the wake of the Ferguson, Missouri, riots over the killing of Michael Brown. In 2015, then-President Barack Obama ordered the blocking of “battlefield” military equipment from being doled out. Obama also demanded more oversight of the program.