Tata helped lead Pentagon anti-IED effort often cited for lack of oversight and results

Wake County's new superintendent had a top role in anti-roadside bomb organization that drew scrutiny for its lack of internal controls and progress
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Friday, January 07, 2011 at 5:10 pm

Anthony Tata (DC.gov/Laura Pyatt)Republicans on the Wake County School Board hired retired Army Brigadier Gen. Anthony Tata to be the district’s superintendent, in part for his military experience and running large organizations. But in his last military post, he was second in command of an organization that has drawn criticism for lacking oversight and spending billions of tax dollars with lackluster results.

In his final military assignment, Tata served as deputy director of the Joint IED Defeat Organization (JIEDDO), a Pentagon organization formed in 2006 to solve the problem of improvised explosive devices (IEDs), or roadside bombs, used by insurgents in Iraq and Afghanistan.

JIEDDO has spent more than $18 billion seeking ways to detect and eliminate IEDs, but has drawn fire from Congress for making slow progress against the weapons, inadequately managing its internal operations and failing to collect and centralize information about anti-IED efforts across the military’s branches.

The U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) has conducted multiple performance audits of JIEDDO at the request of Congress.

One audit conducted from May 2008 to May 2010 covered a portion of the time Tata was helping to oversee the task force’s annual $4.6 billion budget. The GAO found that JIEDDO “has not yet developed a means for reliably measuring the overall effectiveness of its efforts and investments to combat IEDs.”

On Friday, at his first meeting with the media since being hired as Wake superintendent, Tata said JIEDDO’s work saved lives and was appreciated by soldiers.

“I’d rather that you talk to the troops in the field rater than read a GAO report,” he said.

Irene Smith, a JIEDDO spokesperson, said, “I don’t think you can tar Gen. Tata for responsibility for this.” She said the organization’s missteps were often a function of the urgency of its mission and the difficulty of detecting IEDs.

“Especially during [Tata's} tenure we were trying to come up with solutions as quickly as possible. Some of these ideas did not pan out," she said.

A Sept. 10, 2010 article in The Washington Times said some officials think JIEDDO has grown too bloated and mismanaged to be effective in stopping IEDs that have been the insurgents' most effective weapon in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The article reported that the organization has made headway in developing jammers for radio controlled IEDs, but added that disillusionment with JIEDDO was growing:

“[O]bservers inside and outside the Pentagon say JIEDDO has become unwieldy, with too many private contractors and duplicate programs. Congressional reports have called for stricter Pentagon oversight of JIEDDO’s far-flung programs.

“‘JIEDDO has managed to spend billions over the last three years without any significant improvement in defenses against bombs,’ said a Pentagon official who requested anonymity in order to speak freely about policy.”

In an October 2007 Q&A on The Washington Post’s website, Tata defended JIEDDO’s performance.

“JIEDDO absolutely is making a difference in the IED fight as we support the combatant commanders and the troops in contact,” Tata said. He noted the delivery of 32,000 jammers to the war zones, the adding of anti-IED armor to military vehicles and the training of deploying troops with regard to the IED threat.

On the resume that accompanies his Linkedin profile, Tata says he, “Led development of [a] strategic plan that reduced improvised explosive devices in Iraq by 70%.”

Paul McLeary, a senior editor of Defense Technology International magazine who has reported on JIEDDO’s troubles, said Tata’s claim is an exaggeration. McLeary said IED explosions did decline in Iraq, but it was due more to changes in the political environment and a subsequent decline in sectarian violence than a triumph of anti-IED efforts.

Tata’s claim that he developed a plan that reduced IED incidents “is fluffing it a little bit,” McLeary said. “There were a lot of other factors involved.”

Some efforts by JIEDDO turned out to be expensive boondoggles, such as a device developed by the company Ionatron that used a laser pulse to zap bombs. The device only proved effective within three feet of an undetected IED. After years of investment in high-tech gadgets, JIEDDO has found that bomb-sniffing dogs may be the best detectors of the non-metal, fertilizer-based IEDs being used in Afghanistan.

Army Lt. Gen. Michael Oates, the new director of the Joint Improvised Explosive Device Defeat Organization, said last April that JIEDDO has not received a good “return on the investment” it has made on technologies designed to find hidden bombs.

Tata, the chief operations officer for Washington, D.C., schools since July of 2009, toured Wake County schools and met with the media and community leaders this week. He will start work in Wake County on Jan. 31 under a contract that runs through June of 2014. He will receive a salary of $250,000.

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