Opinion

Review criticizes Pentagon officials for handling of Boeing contract

WASHINGTON—A new Defense Department investigation of the Boeing aerial refueling tanker scandal has found that several top Pentagon officials failed to properly award and oversee a contract worth more than $23 billion, government officials said Tuesday.

The Air Force's decision to lease 100 Boeing 767 tanker aircraft already has cost two Boeing officers their jobs and an Air Force contracting official time in prison.

The new Defense Department inspector general's "accountability report" aimed its most serious criticism at former Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisitions Edward C. ("Pete") Aldridge and Aldridge's replacement, Michael W. Wynne, who's now in the post as an acting under secretary, said one government official who read the report and a second who was briefed on it.

The government officials and others familiar with the report spoke on condition of anonymity because it hasn't been released yet.

A Defense Department spokesman, Col. Gary Keck, confirmed the existence of the new report and said Inspector General Joseph Schmitz would release it to the public within about 10 days.

The inspector general's report contains less serious criticism of Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. John Jumper, according to the government officials who described it to Knight Ridder. Jumper is expected to retire in September.

One of the government officials said the report revealed that Marvin Sambur, a former Air Force acquisitions expert, told investigators that Aldridge had instructed him not to apply the normal Defense Department directives for oversight of the multibillion-dollar deal.

The official added that the day before Aldridge left his Pentagon job and returned to the defense industry in 2003, he signed a decision memorandum approving the deal without convening the Defense Acquisitions Board to review it. Failing a review by that board, the official said, the Defense Leasing Board should have issued a report. Neither board was called on to review the deal before Aldridge signed off on it.

Aldridge now serves on the board of directors of Lockheed Martin. Attempts to reach him through the company Tuesday for comment weren't successful. A company official agreed to pass the calls along, but they weren't returned. Wynne and Jumper didn't immediately respond to calls Tuesday evening.

Boeing spokesman Doug Kennett said the company couldn't comment on a report it hadn't seen.

Air Force spokesman Col. Chris Geisel also confirmed the existence of the inspector general's report, and said it's been sent to the three senators on the Armed Services Committee who requested it: John Warner, R-Va., Carl Levin, D-Mich., and John McCain, R-Ariz.

The three asked for the Pentagon internal investigation in the wake of revelations by Darleen Druyun, a former Air Force acquisitions supervisor who pleaded guilty to federal charges in October and is serving nine months in prison.

Druyun revealed that she'd compromised at least nine Air Force projects, including the high-dollar Boeing deal to lease the Boeing 767 tankers at prices higher than simply buying them outright.

While she was negotiating the tanker lease deal, Druyun was simultaneously bargaining for a high-paying job for herself with Boeing upon her retirement from the Pentagon.

Druyun's arrest led to her firing, as well as the firing of the Boeing treasurer who'd negotiated her hiring and the forced resignation of Boeing's president and CEO.

Air Force Secretary James Roche, a 23-year Navy veteran and former Northrop Grumman executive, left the Bush administration shortly after the November election last year under fire from McCain, who'd held up Roche's nomination to become secretary of the Army for nearly 18 months over the Boeing deal.

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