Air Force secretary pick dodges Dems' questions on past work

Air Force secretary pick dodges Dems' questions on past work
© Victoria Sarno Jordan

President Trump’s pick for Air Force secretary on Thursday skirted questions from Senate Democrats over the lack of documentation for her work as a defense industry consultant with a Lockheed Martin subsidiary.

Sen. Jack ReedJohn (Jack) Francis ReedNew York Times: Trump mulling whether to replace Mattis after midterms Overnight Defense: Biden honors McCain at Phoenix memorial service | US considers sending captured ISIS fighters to Gitmo and Iraq | Senators press Trump on ending Yemen civil war Senators press Trump administration on Yemen civil war MORE (D-R.I.) repeatedly questioned former Rep. Heather Wilson (R-N.M.) about her time working for Sandia Corp. as a consultant, and Wilson repeatedly sought to dodge.

Sandia Corp. manages and runs Sandia National Laboratories, research and development labs owned by the Department of Energy (DOE). In 2013, the DOE inspector general found Sandia paid Wilson’s consulting company $464,000 from 2009 to 2011 with no evidence of work. Wilson denied the findings, but the government was reportedly paid back about $443,000.

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Under federal acquisition regulation laws, Wilson should have kept documentation of her consulting work — which she said was about 50 hours a month or more. But she repeatedly avoided direct answers about actual proof of the consulting.

Despite the hard line of questioning, members largely praised her nomination and signaled a likely unanimous confirmation.

“Were you aware of the requirements to provide evidence supporting your 50 hours of work for $10,000 a month?” asked Reed, the Senate Armed Services Committee’s ranking member.

Wilson only replied that she did indeed do the work and complied with the contract.

“The review found no fault with me,” she said. “The DOE auditors never even talked to me.”

Reed tried once more: “My question is on the need to maintain evidence of your work. Do you have records showing you were spending 50 hours a month [working with the labs]?”

Wilson said if the DOE auditors had talked to her at the time, “I would have been able to help them with that on this matter, seven years ago now.”

“So your position is you had no knowledge of the requirements to maintain records and that whatever records to require are no longer in your possession?” Reed fired back.

Wilson only repeated that she complied with the contract and provided the work that asked of her.

“So if you were secretary of the Air Force, you would not probe down to the actual contractors to determine what was done or see if they were culpable for anything?” Reed asked.

Wilson did not answer, instead pointing out that Sandia initially rejected the DOE audit conclusions.

Following the hearing, Reed told The Hill there are still questions that are “outstanding.”

“I think not having any work product over a long period of time and when she was receiving $10,000 a month raises questions,” he said.

Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) also questioned Wilson's consulting work in the hearing, holding up an all-but-blank invoice Wilson submitted to Sandia for $10,000 of work. 

“I’m asking you, as a potential secretary of the Air Force, whether you will hold contractors to a high standard than is indicated by this document?” Blumenthal asked. “Shouldn’t we expect more from contractors than this type of blank invoice?"

“Senator, I think we should expect contractors to comply with the contracts which they sign with the government. In this case I did,” she replied.

Wilson is currently the president at South Dakota School of Mines and Technology.