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entitled 'Investigation: Military Meals, Ready-To-Eat Sold on eBay' 
which was released on February 13, 2006. 

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February 13 , 2006: 

The Honorable Susan M. Collins: 
The Honorable Joseph I. Lieberman: 
Ranking Minority Member: 
Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs: 
United States Senate: 

The Honorable Tom Davis: 
The Honorable Henry A. Waxman: 
Ranking Minority Member: 
Committee on Government Reform: 
House of Representatives: 

Subject: Investigation: Military Meals, Ready-To-Eat Sold on eBay: 

As a result of widespread congressional and public interest in the 
federal response to Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, we conducted a limited 
investigation into allegations that military Meal, Ready-To-Eat (MRE) 
rations intended for use in the hurricane relief efforts were instead 
sold to the public on the Internet auction site eBay. We focused our 
efforts on confirming whether selected MREs being offered for sale on 
eBay were military issue and, if so, interviewing the sellers to 
determine how they obtained the MREs. 

In summary, after investigating 1 day of MRE sales on eBay, we found 
that 8 of 12 eBay sellers we investigated were selling MREs over the 
Internet. In addition, there is evidence that at least some of these 
MREs were diverted from hurricane relief efforts. Specifically, 2 of 
the MRE sellers, who were victims of Hurricane Katrina, accumulated 
cases of MREs during the relief efforts; however, rather than consume 
all of the MREs, they sold some of them on eBay. In addition, a member 
of the Georgia National Guard who was mobilized for Hurricane Katrina 
relief efforts may have stolen and sold MREs intended to feed other 
mobilized servicemembers. Because this National Guard member refused to 
provide information that would have corroborated his claim regarding 
how he obtained the MREs, we concluded that it is possible, and perhaps 
likely, that he obtained the MREs through unauthorized or improper 
means, such as theft. Although we cannot conclusively link the 
remaining five MRE sales to the hurricane relief efforts, our 
investigation revealed additional instances where sellers may have 
improperly obtained MREs and sold them to the public for private gain. 

Scope and Methodology: 

To perform our work, we conducted a limited, or "snapshot," 
investigation by focusing on the sale of MREs on eBay on October 18, 
2005. We chose that day because relief efforts, which included 
distributions of MREs, were under way in all the states affected by 
Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. We investigated a nonrepresentative 
selection of eBay members selling MREs on that day--the 12 claiming to 
offer more than four cases of military MREs for sale. Using limited 
information provided by eBay, we were able to positively identify 9 of 
these 12 sellers. By examining information from the MRE cases and 
interviewing three manufacturers of military MREs, we confirmed that 8 
of these 9 sellers were in fact offering military MREs for sale. To 
determine whether the sellers had any connection to hurricane relief 
efforts, we reviewed documents from eBay; asked the sellers to explain 
how they obtained the MREs; and, if possible, conducted follow-up 
interviews with sources identified by the sellers. Four of the 8 
sellers would not provide us with information about their sources; in 
these cases, we could not corroborate the stories they gave us about 
how they came to be in possession of the military MREs. We conducted 
our work from September 2005 through January 2006 under the statutory 
authority given to the Comptroller General of the United States and in 
accordance with quality standards for investigations as set forth by 
the President's Council on Integrity and Efficiency. 


Military MREs are designed to sustain an individual engaged in 
strenuous activity, such as military training or actual military 
operations, when normal food service facilities are not available. In 
general, military MREs contain a full meal packed in a flexible bag; 
are boxed in cases of 12; and labeled with the National Stock Number 
(8970-00-149-1094), government contract number, and other markings. 
Within DOD, the Defense Logistics Agency's (DLA) Defense Supply Center 
Philadelphia (DSCP) is responsible for the acquisition and disbursement 
of operational rations--including military MREs. Neither DSCP nor any 
of the three manufacturers we interviewed will sell military MREs to 
civilians; however, DSCP resells MREs to other government entities. On 
average, DSCP pays about $52.57 per case of MREs. 

As a result of unauthorized sales to civilians, DOD[Footnote 1]began 
requiring that "U.S. Government Property, Commercial Resale is 
Unlawful," be printed on each case of MREs (see fig. 1). Furthermore, 
although no statutes or regulations specifically prohibit the sale of 
military MREs, DSCP's customer eligibility policy states that DOD 
regulations permit the sale of MREs to a limited number of 
organizations, including, among others, U.S. military organizations and 
federally funded activities. Consequently, servicemembers, federal 
civilian personnel, and contractors selling stolen MREs could face 
criminal charges related to theft of military property.: 

Figure 1: Military MRE Labeling: 

[See PDF for image] 

Source: GAO. 

[End of figure] 

In 2002, after discovering that military MREs were being sold to the 
public on eBay, DSCP sent an e-mail to the sellers requesting that they 
voluntarily terminate these sales because military MREs are procured by 
DLA with taxpayer dollars and owned by the government until consumed by 
authorized personnel or disposed of. The e-mail also advised the 
sellers that military MREs are never considered surplus and that resale 
of MREs is strictly prohibited. Sales dropped off dramatically for a 
short time after this e-mail; however, military MRE sales have since 
resumed. Since the 2002 letter, DSCP has made two other unsuccessful 
attempts via e-mail to deter sales of military MREs. 

Details of Investigation: 

On October 18, 2005, eight eBay members that we investigated sold 
military MREs over the Internet. Table 1 highlights the information we 
obtained from eBay records and the eight sellers. During the course of 
our investigation, we determined that two of the eight were disaster 
victims and could have received the MREs through legitimate means. Of 
the other six, four could not provide information to corroborate their 
claims regarding how they obtained MREs, one provided information that 
was inconsistent with what we subsequently learned, and the other 
admitted to taking MREs from his base. Consequently, as indicated in 
table 1, we referred these six cases to DOD's Inspector General (IG) 
for further investigation after concluding that it is possible, and 
perhaps likely, that the sellers either indirectly or directly obtained 
the MREs through theft or some other improper or unauthorized means and 
profited from their sale. More detailed information on each of the 
cases follows the table. 

Table 1: Military MRE Sales on eBay on October 18, 2005: 

[See PDF for image] 

Source: GAO. 

[A] Seller's previous address was in Louisiana. 

[End of table] 

Case 1: Seller is a policeman with the Tennessee State Guard and was a 
coordinator of shelters in the Nashville area for hurricane relief. 
Seller said he purchased 50 cases of MREs at a flea market in Kentucky 
for about $25 a case and has been selling them on eBay for about $50 a 
case. We asked Seller to provide us with the exact location of the flea 
market, but he said he could not recall where it was. While at Seller's 
residence, we found approximately 21 cases of military MREs packaged, 
labeled, and ready to be shipped to buyers from eBay in the Seller's 
truck (see fig. 2). According to Seller's supervisor in the Tennessee 
State Guard, Seller did not have access to military MREs while 
coordinating the shelters in Nashville. We also confirmed with the 
Tennessee Emergency Management Agency that MREs were not being 
distributed to disaster victims in Nashville. 

Figure 2: MREs Ready to Be Shipped: 

[See PDF for image] 

Source: GAO. 

[End of figure] 

Case 2: Seller was a victim of Hurricane Katrina and said that he 
picked up the MREs at local distribution centers established in his 
area of Louisiana. Seller said he sold some of the MREs on eBay because 
he was unemployed and needed money. 

Case 3: Seller was a victim of Hurricane Katrina and said that he 
picked up the MREs at local distribution centers in Destrehan, 
Louisiana. Seller's home address is in a part of Louisiana directly 
affected by the hurricane. Seller said that he sold approximately six 
or seven cases on eBay since the beginning of September, for 
approximately $40 each. He said that he sold the MREs because he was 
unemployed and needed money. 

Case 4: Seller retired from the U.S. Air Force in July 2004, where he 
was a financial superintendent responsible for voucher processing. 
Seller stated that he obtained the MREs from neighbors and yard sales 
prior to the hurricanes. We asked Seller to provide specific names and 
addresses for these sources, but he said that he could not do so. 
Seller said he has sold approximately 40 or 50 cases of MREs since 
March 2005. 

Case 5: Seller is a Sergeant in the Georgia National Guard and was 
deployed to Lyman, Mississippi, from September 3 to 22 as part of the 
Hurricane Katrina relief effort. Seller stated that his unit received 
MREs during this mission. According to Seller, these MREs were intended 
for use by his unit, and not for distribution to hurricane victims. 
After his deployment ended, Seller stated that he was given permission 
to take some of the leftover MREs but actually took all of the 
remaining 26 cases. Seller acknowledged that he began selling these 
MREs on eBay on October 1, 2005, for approximately $45 per box. We 
asked Seller to provide the name of the person who gave him permission 
to take these MREs, but he refused to do so. 

Case 6: Seller is a member of the U.S. Air Force and is stationed at 
Holloman Air Force base in New Mexico. Seller stated that a friend, a 
fellow U.S. Air Force member assigned to the same base, gave him 
approximately eight cases of MREs to store. Seller insisted that the 
MREs in question were not allocated for hurricane relief efforts, and 
stated that he sold them on eBay for approximately $40 each but did not 
give any of the proceeds to his friend. We also contacted Seller's 
friend, who claimed that he gave Seller 14 boxes of MREs to store and 
stated that the Seller sold the MREs without his knowledge. The friend 
said that he got permission from an instructor at Lackland Air Force 
base in San Antonio, Texas, to take excess MREs for use on a future 
training exercise. We spoke to the instructor, who stated that he gave 
permission for 1 case of MREs to be used on a future training exercise 
but was not aware that 14 cases were taken. The instructor confirmed 
that the MREs in question were for use by military trainees, and not 
allocated for hurricane victims. 

Case 7: Seller is a member of the Marine Corps and is stationed at the 
Marine Corp Logistics Base in Albany, Georgia. Seller refused to talk 
to us, but acknowledged that he was being investigated by Marine Corps 
Criminal Investigative Division (CID) because of his involvement in the 
sale of MREs. A Major in the CID office said that the Seller admitted 
to taking the MREs from a dumpster on base and explained that expired 
or damaged cases are thrown into this dumpster for eventual 
destruction. CID investigators found 61 cases of MREs in Seller's home 
and vehicle but did not find evidence that any of the MREs had actually 
been sold. The Major stated that he did not think that Seller would be 
charged with any crime related to the MREs because they had been thrown 

Case 8: Seller, a former resident of Louisiana, is a businessman in 
California who resides approximately 37 miles from the National 
Training Center at Fort Irwin, which specializes in desert training. 
Seller stated that over the past 5 years he has sold about 40 cases of 
MREs for approximately $34 per case. He said that he used to obtain 
MREs from military personnel, but that he discontinued that practice on 
the advice of base authorities. Seller said he now purchases the MREs 
from local scouting and camping groups that receive MRE donations from 
the military. We asked Seller to provide contact information for these 
sources, but he said that he was unable to do so. We verified that the 
California Department of General Services (CDGS) is a state agency that 
receives surplus MREs from the military and that the Boy Scouts of 
America (BSA) are authorized to requisition MREs from them. However, 
the Manager and Senior Re-Use Specialist of the CDGS stated that 
neither the BSA nor any other similar organization received MREs 
donated to the state of California by the military. 


Military MREs are procured by government entities using taxpayer 
dollars, and are intended to be consumed by individuals from authorized 
organizations and activities. Consequently, if military MREs are sold 
to the general public on eBay, then they are clearly not reaching their 
intended recipients and represent a waste of taxpayer dollars and 
possible criminal activity. 

Although we are issuing no recommendations, we have referred six of the 
eight cases we identified to the Department of Defense Inspector 
General. In addition, we are sending copies of this report to the 
Director of the Defense Logistics Agency. We will provide copies to 
others on request, and the report is available at no charge on GAO's 
home page at Contact points for our Offices of 
Congressional Relations and Public Affairs may be found on the last 
page of this report. If you or your staff have any questions about this 
report, please contact me at (202) 512-9505 or 

Signed by: 

Gregory D. Kutz: 
Managing Director: 
Forensic Audits and Special Investigations: