The Defense Department put U.S. troops in Iraq at risk by awarding contracts for badly needed armored vehicles to companies that failed to deliver them on schedule, according to a review by the Pentagon's inspector general.

The June 27 report examined 15 contracts worth $2.2 billion dollars awarded since 2000 to Force Protection, Inc., and Armor Holdings, Inc.

The auditors found several contracts issued by the Marine Corps on a sole-source basis to Force Protection even though it knew there were other manufacturers that might have supplied the vehicles in a more timely fashion.

The Marine Corps determined that Force Protection of Ladson, S.C., was the only supplier that could meet the urgent delivery schedule for the vehicles.

The inspector general's report, however, concludes otherwise. It says the company "did not perform as a responsible contractor and repeatedly failed to meet contractual delivery schedules for getting the vehicles the theater."

The report also criticizes the Army's decision to award a contract for armor kits to Simula Aerospace and Defense Group, a subsidiary of Armor Holdings of Jacksonville, Fla.

Simula did not meet the government's definition of a "responsible prospective contractor," according to the report, and it lacked the mechanisms necessary to ensure proper delivery of the kits, which were needed to make Humvees less vulnerable to roadside bombs.

The Army received kits "with missing and unusable components, which increased the kit installation time and required additional reinspection of kits," it said.

Overall, the problems "resulted in increased risk to the lives of soldiers," the report states.

There was no immediate comment by the contractors.

The review was requested by Rep. Louise Slaughter in April 2006, after she learned the Pentagon was relying on a just a few small companies to supply armored vehicles to troops in Iraq.

With improvised explosive devices accounting for the majority of combat deaths and injuries, Slaughter said that strategy needed to be examined.

"It's been business as usual," Slaughter, D-N.Y., said Wednesday after reviewing the report. "The lives of our soldiers took a back seat to who got the contracts."

Slaughter said the report raises "more questions than answers" and she wants to know if the awards were the result of "influence peddling or insider connections."

In written comments to the inspector general, the Marine Corps defended its acquisition decisions for the vehicles.

The armored vehicle contracts "were executed within the law, spirit and intent of the current acquisition rules and regulations," according the comments.

The Army did not object to the report's findings.