Until Sept. 11, 2001, a little-known but indispensible annual report by the Defense Department gave the public a window into whether the tens of billions of taxpayer dollars spent each year led to weapons that work. Then, the reports by the Pentagons director of Operational Test and Evaluation were pulled from the website.
In the case of this specific report, the thinking was, why advertise that our weapons dont work, said Tom Christie, who was director of the test office from July 2001 through January 2005. The office was created by Congress to examine if weapons worked as well and as safely as claimed by the contractors that built them. Christie favors restoring the reports to the Pentagons website as a way to hold weapons programs accountable. If certain information is too sensitive to be disclosed, the law creating the test office allows for both classified and unclassified versions of the report, he said.
Although the report is not posted on the Defense Departments public Web site, news reporters and members of the public can obtain a printed copy. In January, Bloomberg published a story about the reports finding that the massive $300 billion Joint Strike Fighter program was far behind in its planned test schedule. Inside Washington Publishers, a company that runs Inside the Pentagon, charges for electronic access to the annual report.
But others think the information should be freely available. This year, the non-profit Center for Defense Information and private watchdog group Project On Government Oversight each posted material from the report on their websites.
“We have not posted the DOT&E report online since after 2001,” said Cheryl Irwin, a Defense Department spokeswoman in response to a query by the Center on why the report is not posted on the Pentagons website when electronic versions of the report can be accessed through private websites. She declined to elaborate.
The annual report has its roots in a 1980s weapons scandal that led to a book and a film called The Pentagon Wars, starring Kelsey Grammer as a less-than-forthright Army general in charge of the Bradley Fighting Vehicle program.
View a <a href=”http://www.publicintegrity.org/data_mine/entry/1961/”>clip</a> from the Pentagon Wars on the Center for Public Integrity’s site.
About the Data:
What: An annual report on Pentagon weapons effectiveness
Where: Department of Defense, Washington, D.C.
Availability: Printed copies can be requested.
Email your tips on government data sets that you think should be made more accessible or user-friendly. Were eager to hear what you turn up full credit and links will be provided to individuals whose suggestions we use in our series.