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Armed Services Head: Air Force Needs Shake-Up

POSTED: 10:14 AM ET, 07/22/2008 by Derek Kravitz

The head of the Senate Armed Services Committee said today that new Air Force leaders must fix the problems at the beleaguered service, which has been under fire for mishandling some of its nuclear responsibilities, The Associated Press reports.

Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.) said he acknowledges it's "a very, very difficult time" for the service while speaking at the opening of a confirmation hearing for two men nominated to take the place of Air Force leadership fired last month.

Michael Donley is nominated to be the new Air Force Secretary and Gen. Norton Schwartz has been chosen to be its chief of staff.

Their predecessors, former Air Force Secretary Michael W. Wynne and former Chief of Staff Gen. T. Michael Moseley resigned under pressure in June after a series of missteps.

Some of those problems include:

-- Last summer, a crew of U.S. airmen mistakenly transported six live nuke warheads from North Dakota's Minot Air Force Base to a Lousiana air base.

A simple error in a missile storage room led to mistakes at every turn, as ground crews failed to notice the warheads, and as security teams and flight crew members failed to provide adequate oversight and check the cargo thoroughly, The Post's Joby Warrick and Walter Pincus reported. An elaborate nuclear safeguard system, nurtured during the Cold War and infused with rigorous accounting and command procedures, was utterly debased, the investigation's early results showed.

The event triggered a rare "Bent Spear" incident report that enraged Pentagon leaders and spurred new questions about nuclear safety systems.

-- Questions about the Air Force's massive acquisition operations were spurred by the handling of a $40 billion refueling tanker contract announced in February. The award went unexpectedly to Northrop Grumman and its partner, European Aeronautic Defence and Space, not to incumbent Boeing.

The contract to supply the tankers had originally been awarded to Boeing, but was withdrawn in 2004 over a procurement scandal that resulted in Boeing and Air Force officers being sent to prison.

After Boeing snagged a $20 billion contract to lease tankers, the Air Force's former procurement chief, Darleen A. Druyun, admitted that she favored Boeing while negotiating for a job with the company.

Druyun and Boeing's former chief financial officer went to prison, and Boeing agreed with the Justice Department to pay $615 million -- the biggest penalty ever paid by a defense contractor -- to settle allegations of misconduct on the tanker deal and others.

In the new contract process, government auditors said "a number of significant errors" had been made in the evaluations of the heated competition. The contract is now up for bid again.

-- Congress criticized the service for a $50 million contract to update the Thunderbirds air show. Lawmakers said the deal "raises serious questions about the role played" by senior Air Force officials in possibly steering the work to cronies, The Post's Josh White reported.

-- Embarrassing questions about the Air Force's dealings with a tax-exempt charity called Commonwealth Research Institute, or CRI. The Air Force arranged for CRI to pay $26,788 to Charles D. Riechers, a senior civilian official who was awaiting White House confirmation of his nomination as principal deputy assistant secretary for acquisition, The Post's Robert O'Harrow reported.

In October, after questions were raised about the arrangment, Riechers was found dead in an apparent suicide.

--Derek Kravitz

By Derek Kravitz |  July 22, 2008; 10:14 AM ET
Previous: GAO: 'Jaws of Life,' Tractors, Laptops Went Missing | Next: Wachovia's Staggering Losses Reflect Bad Loans

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Coming from a Air Force family I agree with the author's view that there needs to bechanges to the air force's top leaders, civilan and military. I believe that the entire Defense Contracting Business is corrupt and favortism is rampant. I think that there needs to be more competiotion for such contracts and that will only happen if the government is willing to work with smaller companies and reward them with contracts. Consolidation of power to a select few companies means that back-room dealings are now common.

Posted by: jacob | July 22, 2008 1:35 PM

Coming from a Air Force family I agree with the author's view that there needs to bechanges to the air force's top leaders, civilan and military. I believe that the entire Defense Contracting Business is corrupt and favortism is rampant. I think that there needs to be more competiotion for such contracts and that will only happen if the government is willing to work with smaller companies and reward them with contracts. Consolidation of power to a select few companies means that back-room dealings are now common.

Posted by: jacob | July 22, 2008 1:37 PM

it seems like the navy and army have overtaken the air force in terms of managing and maintaining aircraft.

it's time that the air force was downsized greatly, and reduce the amount of Air Force program spending... let's consolidate more and form more joint commands.

need to eliminate all the redundancy in the UAV programs...form a single joint command and only maintain 3-4 platforms that are payload and multi-mission capable.

enough is enough of all this excessive spending.

Posted by: frank | July 22, 2008 9:45 PM

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