WASHINGTON -- Defense Secretary William J. Perry last night denied an accusation by the General Accounting Office that he appeared to break Pentagon rules by recommending the foreign purchase of a Baltimore-made airborne radar-jamming system.
"Any assertion that I violated foreign military sales/acquisition regulations by expressing preference for one contractor over another . . ..is flatly wrong," Mr. Perry said in a terse and angry statement.
The GAO report said that, when Mr. Perry was deputy defense secretary last year, he made statements to Swiss and Finnish officials "that appeared to indicate a preference" for the jammer made by Westinghouse Electric Corp. of Baltimore and ITT Avionics of Nutley, N.J., over competing U.S. models.
Mr. Perry countered that he told the foreign officials merely that the jammer was designed for the U.S. fighters that their governments had ordered but that he did not actually urge them to buy it.
The Defense Department's Security Assistance Management Manual states: "Security assistance officials should support the marketing efforts of U.S. companies while maintaining strict neutrality between U.S. competitors."
Sen. William V. Roth Jr. of Delaware, the ranking Republican on the governmental affairs committee who asked the GAO to investigate the Pentagon's handling of the jammer sales, said: "While it may not be illegal, it is certainly not appropriate for a public official to endorse one U.S. contractor over another to a foreign government interested in purchasing military equipment."
According to the GAO, Mr. Perry expressed his preference for the ITT-Westinghouse airborne self-protection jammer (ASPJ) in meetings last year with officials from Finland and Switzerland. Both countries were buying McDonnell Douglas FA-18 attack fighters and wanted to include a jammer system for detecting and neutralizing enemy radars. The ITT-Westinghouse jammer was designed for the FA-18s.
At an August 1993 meeting with Mr. Perry, the GAO said, Swiss officials indicated a preference for the ASPJ but asserted that they wanted it only if the United States was using it and if it could be purchased through the U.S. government-to-government foreign military sales program. That would make the U.S. government largely responsible for its long-term performance, which would not be the case if it were bought directly from a company.
Although the Pentagon ended its production of the system for U.S. planes in December 1992 after disappointing test results, Mr. Perry reportedly told the Swiss, according to the GAO, that "if he were buying a jammer, he would buy the ASPJ." Westinghouse and ITT are hoping that foreign orders could reactivate their jammer production lines.
He also told the Swiss officials that U.S. evaluation standards for the system were "unrealistic and impossible to meet," the report said.
In a meeting with Finnish officials in December 1993, Mr. Perry, according to the report, "made similar statements as he made to the Swiss about which jammer he preferred."
Robert Hall, special assistant to Mr. Perry, questioned the GAO's account of the meetings and said that they were based on incomplete accounts of what happened.
In the August Swiss meeting, according to Mr. Hall, Mr. Perry said he would buy the ASPJ because it was designed for the F-18s, which the Swiss were buying.
The GAO account of the December meeting with the Finns was "specifically incorrect," said Mr. Hall, who attended the session. According to him, the Finns said they had decided to buy the ASPJ and were not interested in other jammers.
Neither the Finns nor the Swiss have yet placed firm orders for the jammer. The South Koreans have also expressed interest in the jammer, which cost ITT-Westinghouse 16 years and the Pentagon $1.5 billion to develop.
At one time the Air Force and the Navy planned to buy more than 2,000 of the units, at a cost of $9 billion. The Pentagon's cancellation of the program at the end of 1992 cost 460 Baltimore-area jobs.
Despite vigorous efforts by the Maryland congressional delegation to revive the program, Deputy Defense Secretary John Deutch, in a letter to Sen. David Pryor, an Arkansas Democrat who has been a leading critic of the jammer program, said in March that "no further production of [ASPJ] is planned."
A Westinghouse Electric Corp. official said last night that the company would not be able to comment until it had studied the GAO report.