Details on Boeing Deal Sought

Posted in Other | 13-Jun-05 | Author: Mike Allen| Source: Washington Post

Defense Department Inspector General Joseph E. Schmitz, left, and a deputy, Thomas F. Gimble, testify on the aborted air-tanker deal.

Senators Raise Questions About White House Involvement

Senators urged the Pentagon's inspector general yesterday to release more information about the involvement of White House officials and Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld in an aborted $30 billion air-tanker deal that exposed gaping holes in the government's controls on large purchases.

The inspector general, Joseph E. Schmitz, appeared before the Senate Armed Services Committee to present a 257-page report that concluded that Pentagon officials broke laws and regulations as they worked with Boeing Co. to complete a lease deal for 100 refueling planes. The deal was later canceled by Congress.

The report, released with 45 deletions of references to White House officials, called the existing controls inadequate and said the Defense Department "must change the cultural environment" of its purchasing bureaucracy. It shows in unprecedented detail how Pentagon officials worked with Boeing to tailor an expensive lease for the aircraft, which outside experts had said were not urgently needed.

A former Air Force acquisitions official, Darleen A. Druyun, is serving a prison term for violating ethics rules by negotiating a job with Boeing while she represented the Pentagon in the tanker deal. Former Boeing executive Michael M. Sears pleaded guilty to violating conflict-of-interest laws and is also in prison. Schmitz said that "at least" one other potential criminal violation may be referred to the U.S. attorney's office.

Former Air Force secretary James G. Roche said in a January letter to Schmitz, included in the report, that the tanker talks had included "senior White House staff" and President Bush's budget office.

Committee members said they may subpoena testimony from Edward C. "Pete" Aldridge Jr., who approved the deal when he was the Pentagon's top weapons buyer. Aldridge, who has since joined the board of directors of defense contractor Lockheed Martin Corp., did not respond to inquiries from the inspector general.

Rumsfeld and his former deputy, Paul D. Wolfowitz, were among the 88 witnesses the inspector general's staff interviewed for the report, but Schmitz said he included nothing about them because he was told that, "in both cases, there wasn't much" that came out of the conversations.

Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman John W. Warner (R-Va.) said he was "somewhat perplexed" that Schmitz had left the interviews to underlings. He expressed incredulity that Rumsfeld and Wolfowitz had nothing relevant to say about what the chairman called "the most significant defense procurement mismanagement in contemporary history."

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), a former Navy aviator who spearheaded the congressional investigations, said he found it "disturbing to find so much uniformed involvement in this issue" because he was "brought up that people in uniform stayed out of politics."

Two Air Force officials who testified yesterday -- including Gen. John P. Jumper, the chief of staff -- apologized to McCain for the snide references to his motivations in some e-mails cited in the report.

Sen. Carl M. Levin (Mich.), the committee's top Democrat, called the report "totally inadequate." He complained that too many e-mails from and about Bush's aides had been blanked out, even from the classified copy that senators could view in a secure room. "Critical gaps in this report have placed a cloud over it -- indeed, over the inspector general's office," he said.

The report is riddled with redactions of material concerning White House officials, lawmakers, Boeing executives and lower-ranking Pentagon officials who had roles in the lease deal. "There is no legal authority that would conceivably justify the redaction of this material from the report," Levin said.

White House Chief of Staff Andrew H. Card Jr. has previously been identified as playing a role in the negotiations. White House press secretary Scott McClellan said Card had served "simply as an honest broker to make sure that all views were represented and to make sure that it was completed in a timely matter, because it was relating to a national security need that was pressing."

McClellan brushed off questions about whether the White House should be more transparent about its role. "Those who were involved in wrongdoing are being held accountable," he said.

Keith Ashdown of Taxpayers for Common Sense, a group that has been studying the case, said the report "throws cold water on the lone-gunman theory that Darleen Druyun is entirely to blame for this mess."

Staff writer R. Jeffrey Smith contributed to this report.