Ohio Sen. Rob Portman is touting his work on behalf of ArmorSource, a manufacturer of protective headgear based in his home state, in a new re-election ad this week. The Republican lawmaker recalls how he intervened on behalf of ArmorSource to make sure the company had the chance to bid on a federal contract to make helmets for U.S. troops.
What the ad doesn't say is that earlier this month, ArmorSource paid $3 million to settle allegations that helmets it previously sold to the U.S. military "did not conform to contract requirements and failed to meet contract performance standards." According to the U.S. Department of Justice, the helmets "failed ballistic safety tests."
A whistleblower lawsuit alleged that ArmorSource delivered faulty helmets from 2006 to 2009. After problems emerged, the Army began recalling the headgear in May 2010. Troops in Iraq and Afghanistan that year were told to trade in their ArmorSource helmets for ones made by a different company.
ArmorSource blamed the helmet failure on a subcontractor, Federal Prison Industries (also known as UNICOR), that uses inmate labor to produce a wide range of products.
Three years after the helmet recall, Portman intervened to make sure that ArmorSource was allowed to bid for another major helmet contract with the Department of Defense. The company won the contract, and Portman took credit for helping.
But as the senator was speaking up for ArmorSource, the company was still fighting the whistleblower lawsuit related to the faulty helmets. The Justice Department chose to join that suit -- a step that can help pressure companies into settling.
An ArmorSource spokeswoman distinguished the two contracts. "The settlement in question and the lightweight advanced combat helmet (LWACH) are two entirely separate contracts," she said. "The LWACH is the helmet for which Senator Portman ensured fair and open competition. The Department of Defense is the sole entity responsible for awarding the LWACH contract. Of all vendors awarded LWACH contracts, and there were three, ArmorSource is the only one who was able to pass all of the Army’s ballistic testing requirements.”
A spokesman for Portman's campaign responded to HuffPost's request for comment with a statement attacking former Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland, the senator's Democratic challenger in this fall's election. The statement did not address the ad or explain why Portman chose to intervene on behalf of ArmorSource. Portman is currently polling neck and neck with Strickland, making the Ohio Senate race one of the most closely watched in the nation.
"Equipment that fails to meet performance standards not only cheats taxpayers, but can put lives at risk,” said Benjamin Mizer, head of DOJ’s Civil Division, in announcing the settlement on March 7. Contractors "must deliver on their promises, especially when the safety and security of our troops is on the line,” said Monte Cason of DOJ's Office of the Inspector General.