Metallurgist Forged Strength Tests to Sell Lower Quality Steel to The U.S. Navy

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Elaine Thomas, a former metallurgist, and director at a foundry that provides steel to the U.S. Navy, has pleaded guilty in a Washington court, admitting to having falsified material strength test results numerous times in the past.

This unethical practice has affected over 240 “cast high-yield” steel batches bought by the U.S. Navy for the purposes of constructing submarines. The practice of falsifying test results spanned between 1985 and 2017, so it is practically challenging if not entirely impossible for the Navy to determine which submarines are affected and up to what point.

Submarines are subject to immense water pressure forces when diving deep under the surface, and as such, their vessels cannot afford to have any weak points. A single failure anywhere on the hull or the structural elements can quickly lead to a catastrophe.

In terms of how much the reported test results deviated from the real measurement values, Ms. Thomas admitted that she “changed first digits”, like for example changing 10 foot-pounds to 20 foot-pounds. This is significant as the Navy wouldn’t have bought these batches if it knew their true physical and mechanical properties.

This is also precisely why Thomas took the liberty of changing the digits, as she knew that otherwise, the orders wouldn’t move forward. However, since the firm wasn’t hers and no pressure has been applied from her employer to do something like that, it is unclear why she did it.

The foundry’s administration only got to learn about the falsified test results in May 2017, when another lab employee found numerous discrepancies. After the truth came to light, the foundry took full responsibility and paid $10.8 million to the U.S. Navy as restitution.

As for Thomas, she is now facing fraud charges that could impose up to 10 years in prison and $1 million in fines. The actual sentence will be decided on February 14, 2022.

Bianca Van der Watt

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