Watchdog files ethics complaint over acting Pentagon chief's Boeing ties

Watchdog files ethics complaint over acting Pentagon chief's Boeing ties
© Getty

A prominent government watchdog group on Wednesday filed an ethics complaint against acting Defense Secretary Patrick ShanahanPatrick Michael ShanahanOvernight Defense: Top Marine warns border deployment could hurt readiness | McSally aims for sexual assault reforms in defense bill | House to vote on measure opposing transgender ban | New warning over F-35 sale to Turkey On The Money: Trump rolls dice on uncertain economy | 737 crisis tests Boeing's clout in Washington | Watchdog group pushes 2020 candidates for 10 years of tax returns McSally eyeing defense bill for sexual assault reforms MORE over accusations the former Boeing executive unfairly promoted his former employer while serving as a Pentagon official.

Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) asked the Department of Defense (DOD) inspector general to look into Shanahan, who worked at Boeing for more than 30 years before President TrumpDonald John TrumpClinton and Ocasio-Cortez joke about Kushner's alleged use of WhatsApp Missouri Gov. declares state of emergency amid severe flooding Swalwell on Hicks testimony: 'She's going to have to tell us who she lied for' in Trump admin MORE named him as deputy Defense secretary in 2017.


Shanahan moved to his role as the acting Defense chief in January following the December resignation of former Defense Secretary James MattisJames Norman MattisOvernight Defense: Pentagon chief under investigation over Boeing ties | Trump uses visual aids to tout progress against ISIS | Pentagon, Amnesty International spar over civilian drone deaths Pentagon watchdog probing whether acting chief boosted Boeing Overnight Defense: Judge says Trump can't implement transgender policy | Trump floats admitting Brazil to NATO | Mattis returning to Stanford MORE.

CREW has asked the inspector general to find out if Shanahan violated his own ethics pledge to recuse himself from matters dealing with Boeing. 

The complaint alleges that Shanahan “made numerous statements promoting his former employer Boeing and has disparaged the company’s competitors before subordinates at the agency.”

“In private remarks he made since then at DoD, Mr. Shanahan reportedly praised Boeing in discussions about government contracts, said that Boeing would have done much better than its competitor Lockheed Martin had it been awarded a fighter jet contract, and repeatedly ‘dumped on’ the jet Lockheed produced,” according to the complaint.

A statement from Shanahan’s office on Wednesday denied any ethics violations.

“Secretary Shanahan has at all times remained committed to complying with his Ethics Agreement, which screens Boeing matters to other DoD officials and ensures no potential for a conflict of interest with Boeing on any matter. Secretary Shanahan remains focused on aligning the Department along the National Defense Strategy,” said his spokesman Army Lt. Col. Joe Buccino. 

Among the major accusations, CREW writes that Shanahan pressed the Air Force to include in its fiscal 2020 budget an unwanted purchase of Boeing-made F-15Xs.

The Pentagon on Tuesday revealed its fiscal 2020 budget request which includes eight of the fourth-generation fighter jets for about $1.1 billion — the DOD's first F-15 buy since 2001 — and plans to buy up to 72 more in the next five years.

Defense News reported last month that Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson said that the fiscal 2020 proposal the service first submitted “did not include additional fourth-generation aircraft.”  

The CREW complaint notes that Shanahan “appears to have participated in the decision to include more than $1 billion in federal funds in the 2020 budget cycle for the F-15X fighter aircraft. ... Mr. Shanahan’s conduct occurred within two years of his appointment in July 2017, and he does not appear to have received any waiver that would enable him to work on DoD projects involving Boeing. As a result, Mr. Shanahan appears to have violated his Ethics Pledge.”

Shanahan has faced increased scrutiny in recent weeks as speculation swirls around the possibility that Trump could soon nominate him to serve as the Pentagon’s permanent Defense chief.

Boeing has also been in the public eye due to two fatal crashes within five months — the latest of which was Sunday — involving its commercial passenger jet, the Boeing 737 Max 8. The most recent crash, involving an Ethiopian Airlines plane, killed all 157 people on board, while a Lion Air crash in Indonesia in October killed 189 people.

Trump on Wednesday announced the U.S. will ground the Boeing 737 Max 8 and Max 9 aircraft “effective immediately,” bowing to heavy pressure from lawmakers.

Before Trump nominated him as deputy Defense secretary in March 2017, Shanahan was Boeing’s senior vice president for supply chain and operations.

Prior to that, he was the senior vice president of airplane programs at Boeing Commercial Airplanes, where he oversaw the 737, 747, 767, 777 and 787 programs.

He’s also been the vice president and general manager of Boeing Missile Defense Systems, and before that, the vice president and general manager for Boeing Rotorcraft Systems.

Asked on Tuesday by CNN about the Max 8 crashes, Shanahan said, “Let’s let the FAA and others take command of the situation.”