Metallurgist admits faking steel-test results for Navy subs

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SEATTLE (AP) — A metallurgist in Washington state pleaded guilty to fraud Monday after she spent decades faking the results of strength tests on steel that was being used to make U.S. Navy submarines.

Elaine Marie Thomas, 67, of Auburn, Washington, was the director of metallurgy at a foundry in Tacoma that supplied steel castings used by Navy contractors Electric Boat and Newport News Shipbuilding to make submarine hulls.

From 1985 through 2017, Thomas falsified the results of strength and toughness tests for at least 240 productions of steel — about half the steel the foundry produced for the Navy, according to her plea agreement, filed Monday in U.S. District Court in Tacoma. The tests were intended to show that the steel would not fail in a collision or in certain “wartime scenarios," the Justice Department said.

There was no allegation that any submarine hulls failed, but authorities said the Navy had incurred increased costs and maintenance to ensure they remain seaworthy. The government did not disclose which subs were affected.


Thomas faces up to 10 years in prison and a $1 million fine when she is sentenced in February. However, the Justice Department said it would recommend a prison term at the low end of whatever the court determines is the standard sentencing range in her case.

In a statement filed in U.S. District Court on her behalf Monday, her attorney, John Carpenter, said Thomas “took shortcuts.”

“Ms. Thomas never intended to compromise the integrity of any material and is gratified that the government’s testing does not suggest that the structural integrity of any submarine was in fact compromised,” Carpenter wrote. “This offense is unique in that it was neither motivated by greed nor any desire for personal enrichment. She regrets that she failed to follow her moral compass – admitting to false statements is hardly how she envisioned living out her retirement years.”

Thomas' conduct came to light in 2017, when a metallurgist being groomed to replace her noticed suspicious test results and alerted their company, Kansas City-based Bradken Inc., which acquired the foundry in 2008.

Bradken fired Thomas and initially disclosed its findings to the Navy, but then wrongfully suggested that the discrepancies were not the result of fraud. That hindered the Navy’s investigation into the scope of the problem as well as its efforts to remediate the risks to its sailors, prosecutors said.

In June 2020, the company agreed to pay $10.9 million in a deferred-prosecution agreement.

When confronted with the doctored results, Thomas told investigators, “Yeah, that looks bad,” the Justice Department said. She suggested that in some cases she changed the tests to passing grades because she thought it was “stupid” that the Navy required the tests to be conducted at negative-100 degrees Fahrenheit (negative-73.3 degrees Celsius).
 

Shadowrider

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I've got years of experience in defense contracts on some pretty neat items. Her attorney is utterly full of **** and I don't buy it for a second.

The requirements and specifications with these things are all laid out in .gov contracts. It's not hard as all the engineering work has already been done. All you have to do is conform and document that conformance. Short of sabotage there's absolutely ZERO reason not to conform unless it's a monetary benefit and to falsify reports for this many years is just asking to get sent up. Yes they do "check your work" regularly with their own inspections and without notice to you too. There had to be large money involved here somehow.
 
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Johnny

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It was probably charpy impact test. And it is kind of retarded to perform the test at negative 100 degrees F for sub parts. But still no reason to falsify test results.
 

Buddhaman

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I wonder what tests she failed to perform. Charpy seems likely but if it was tensile and yield then could be big trouble. Possibly chemical composition testing that was skipped. I know foundries are pretty good about their “blends” being correct but a percentage here or there could be trouble.
 

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I've got years of experience in defense contracts on some pretty neat items. Her attorney is utterly full of **** and I don't buy it for a second.

The requirements and specifications with these things are all laid out in .gov contracts. It's not hard as all the engineering work has already been done. All you have to do is conform and document that conformance. Short of sabotage there's absolutely ZERO reason not to conform unless it's a monetary benefit and to falsify reports for this many years is just asking to get sent up. Yes they do "check your work" regularly with their own inspections and without notice to you too. There had to be large money involved here somehow.
i've done mostly aerospace stuff in my career, never naval, but I'll say this as to why you're right. Pencil whipping one test you'd be able to profit all the TM&L you charge the contract for actually doing it. Imagine how much that adds up to for the company over 20 years. I'm glad she got caught.
 

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I've got years of experience in defense contracts on some pretty neat items. Her attorney is utterly full of **** and I don't buy it for a second.

The requirements and specifications with these things are all laid out in .gov contracts. It's not hard as all the engineering work has already been done. All you have to do is conform and document that conformance. Short of sabotage there's absolutely ZERO reason not to conform unless it's a monetary benefit and to falsify reports for this many years is just asking to get sent up. Yes they do "check your work" regularly with their own inspections and without notice to you too. There had to be large money involved here somehow.
i've done mostly aerospace stuff in my career, never naval, but I'll say this as to why you're right. Pencil whipping one test you'd be able to profit all the TM&L you charge the contract for actually doing it. Imagine how much that adds up to for the company over 20 years. I'm glad she got caught.
 

Rustytigwire

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Yeah for -100 service a sub gonna make crunchy sounds moving about in the water.
Exxon LaBarge did wps to -80 in ...1985? I spent the day with those metallurgical engineers administering weld tests. Illuminating for both parties for sure. Good guys.
So what is the material in question? Grade tensile yield etc?
Charpy as welded in a pressure vessel shop will bite you on the butt if management puts a doofus on the sub arc.
Gouge them seams out boys ya failed impacts!
 

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