June 12, 2014

The Testing That Wasn’t

New York Man Falsifies Test Data on Military Equipment

Military Equipment

Technology enhances the U.S. military’s ability to protect our nation. That technology, however, is traditionally subject to stringent testing measures to ensure it operates the way it’s supposed to.

Unfortunately, one testing manager employed by a government contractor in western New York decided, on his own, that the testing requirements imposed by the Department of Defense (DOD) on his company were unnecessary, so he cut corners. And when the FBI and our military partners got wind of his actions, the ensuing joint investigation resulted in that testing manager’s guilty plea and subsequent federal prison term. He was also ordered to pay nearly $300,000 in restitution for the retesting costs incurred by the military.

Steve Wysocki personally oversaw product testing for two specific projects—the KG-40 military radio system and the SH-60 Sonobuoy system. The KG-40 is a tactical radio encryption system used by the U.S. Army and Navy and also sold for export to foreign countries, while the SH-60 is an anti-submarine warfare device that includes a small sonar unit usually released into the ocean from an aircraft.

In 2011, the FBI received information about possible falsification of testing data for the KG-40 radio system. Teaming up with investigators from the Army Criminal Investigation Division’s Major Procurement Fraud Unit, the Naval Criminal Investigative Service, and the Defense Criminal Investigative Service, we began looking into the allegations.

The investigation, which involved extensive reviews of company testing records and numerous interviews with company employees and others, revealed how the data was falsified. Here’s how it worked:

  • Among the testing protocols imposed by DOD for the KG-40 and SH-60 is something called vibration testing—component parts being placed on a vibration table for a certain period of time to ensure they can survive real-world combat conditions on aircraft and ships.
  • During vibration testing, the components are hooked up to a computer that monitors performance and produces a profile. Because of testing variables, no two items will produce the same exact testing profile.
  • Wysocki admitted to personally falsifying vibration test profiles—and directing subordinates to do the same—for components of the KG-40 and SH-60 systems by using testing profiles from previous items and simply changing the serial number, date, and time of the test. These phony profiles were then inserted into each component’s “traveler file,” which accompanies it throughout the assembly and testing process. Each tested item needs a copy of a passing vibration table profile in its file before it can be released to the military. Wysocki even had a name for his non-testing procedure: “phantom vibe testing.”
  • To justify the phantom vibe testing to his workers, Wysocki told them that the testing of certain components could be skipped because those types of components had no reported failures detected during vibration testing. He also told them he was trying to clear up a backlog and that the units needed to move along the line quicker.

But no matter how Wysocki tried to justify his actions to his subordinates—or perhaps to himself—he broke the law. And as U.S. Attorney William Hochul, Jr., Western District of New York, put it, “This office will not tolerate anybody who, by their actions, hurts or impacts the products used by our military men and women to carry out their critical mission.”