Senators question decisions in inspector general's probe

Senior members of the Senate Armed Services Committee yesterday criticized the Pentagon inspector-general’s investigation and report into the Air Force lease of midair refueling tankers from Boeing. Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.), the panel’s ranking member, accused the Defense Department’s inspector general, Joseph Schmitz, of failing to be thorough and independent.
Senior members of the Senate Armed Services Committee yesterday criticized the Pentagon inspector-general’s investigation and report into the Air Force lease of midair refueling tankers from Boeing.

Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.), the panel’s ranking member, accused the Defense Department’s inspector general, Joseph Schmitz, of failing to be thorough and independent.
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Sen. John McCain criticized the inspector general for not interviewing a key figure.


Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), who played a pivotal role in uncovering the corruption in the tanker deal, criticized the inspector general’s failure to include testimony from Edward “Pete” Aldridge, undersecretary of defense for acquisition, logistics and technology, about his role in the tanker negotiations.

Despite their criticisms, the panel said they were generally pleased with the report’s findings and recommendations.

The investigators analyzed e-mails, memos and prior reviews of the KC-767 tanker program and interviewed 88 Pentagon and Air Force staff members to determine who was to blame for the debacle.

In the 256-page report, the finger is consistently pointed at Aldridge. “Don’t you think it is important to have his testimony?” McCain asked Schmitz at one point.

Other people cited by the report include Michael Wynne, acting undersecretary of defense for acquisition, technology and logistics; James Roche, the secretary of the Air Force; Marvin Sambur, assistant secretary of the Air Force; Darleen Druyun, principal deputy assistant secretary of the Air Force.

Schmitz said his office tried repeatedly to contact Aldridge by registered mail, left voice messages and attempted to obtain other phone numbers to reach him. “I think you can get a hold of him,” since Aldridge now sits on the board of Lockheed Martin, “a major defense contractor,” McCain retorted, adding, “I’d like to know what pressures Aldridge felt to sign the contract.”

He suggested Aldridge be subpoenaed to testify before the panel, but Warner said he should first be given the opportunity to appear voluntarily.

“We were able to tell the story without Secretary Aldridge’s testimony,” Schmitz said. The inspector general’s office does not exercise its subpoena power in civil matters, he explained.

McCain, chairman of the Armed Services Airland Subcommittee, was the driving force behind a successful effort to thwart Boeing’s deal to lease a new fleet of aerial tankers to the Air Force. The deal has been found to be riddled with corruption. Yesterday’s hearing came after three years of investigations prompted by the committee.

The inspector general’s report found that senior Air Force and Pentagon officials focused on justifying a deal with Boeing rather than being objective about it.

In the aftermath of the deal, Roche has resigned, Sambur has retired and two Boeing executives, Darlene Druyun and Michael Sears, have been sentenced to imprisonment.

Druyun accepted Boeing’s inflated lease prices while she was an Air Force acquisition official and then took a high-paying position at the company. Sears is due to serve four months for violating federal conflict-of-interest laws.

Schmitz said yesterday that there is still “at least one matter” that could lead to criminal investigations by the U.S. attorney general.

Wynne’s role also triggered a dispute between the panel and the inspector general. In a memo May 28, 2003, Wynne notified the office of management and budget of the secretary of defense’s decision to lease from Boeing. Wynne told the senators, “I was made to believe [by Aldridge] that the secretary of defense had made a decision.”

Schmitz told the panel that Wynne could have reversed the decision once he took Aldridge’s position, and Wynne added, “I stand willing to accept that I allowed the debate of the tanker to continue.”

The report is peppered with redactions. Several pages are blotted out almost entirely. Many of the redactions are of materials obtained from the White House in an agreement Warner and McCain reached with the executive branch.

Levin said redactions are made not only from White House material but also from e-mails between Pentagon officials, Roche’s letters, Boeing’s e-mails and even the report itself.

“If, in fact, you inquired about the role played by the secretary and deputy secretary of defense and senior White House officials in the tanker-lease program, that information is not reflected in the report,” Levin said.

A classified version of the report is available in a secure room in the Armed Services Committee, according to Warner, but he conceded that even that version has redactions. “We do not have any unredacted materials. Your judgment should be based on unredacted documents,” Levin told Schmitz