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

Watchdog files ethics complaint over acting Pentagon chief's Boeing ties
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A prominent government watchdog group on Wednesday filed an ethics complaint against acting Defense Secretary Patrick ShanahanPatrick Michael ShanahanThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by JUUL Labs - House to vote to condemn Trump tweet Five things to watch for at Defense nominee's confirmation hearing Press: Acosta, latest to walk the plank 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 TrumpPompeo changes staff for Russia meeting after concerns raised about top negotiator's ties: report House unravels with rise of 'Les Enfants Terrible' Ben Carson: Trump is not a racist and his comments were not racist MORE named him as deputy Defense secretary in 2017.

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Shanahan moved to his role as the acting Defense chief in January following the December resignation of former Defense Secretary James MattisJames Norman MattisThe Hill's Morning Report - A raucous debate on race ends with Trump admonishment Trump's pick to lead Pentagon glides through confirmation hearing Overnight Defense: Highlights from Defense pick's confirmation hearing | Esper spars with Warren over ethics | Sidesteps questions on Mattis vs. Trump | Trump says he won't sell F-35s to Turkey 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.”