Pentagon takes over Air Force programs

The Air Force, which has vacancies in its top civilian jobs, has been forced to surrender oversight authority for 21 weapons programs worth a combined $200 billion.

The authority was transferred to the Pentagon’s second-ranking weapons buyer, Michael Wynne, who said the highly unusual move was temporary and should not be seen as punishment of the Air Force.

“This action is not a punitive one; rather, it is meant to assist the Air Force by overseeing and providing advice on important Air Force programs during a time of transition,” Wynne said.

Normally the Air Force’s own acquisition officers would have the authority to make decisions about these 21 weapons programs without involving Wynne. But since there is no Senate-confirmed Air Force secretary, undersecretary or chief of acquisition, Wynne took control.

The Air Force has had a civilian leadership vacuum since the departure last week of Peter Teets, who was the Air Force undersecretary as well as acting secretary. Teets had been filling in since James Roche resigned as secretary in January. The job of Air Force acquisition chief has been vacant since Marvin Sambur left in January.

With Teets gone, the most senior civilian in the Air Force is Michael L. Dominguez, who has served since August 2001 as assistant secretary of the Air Force for manpower and reserve affairs.

A 1975 West Point graduate and Army veteran, Dominguez has been responsible for force management, personnel, equal opportunity and diversity. His official biography indicates no experience in weapons buying.

Wynne’s decision to take control of Air Force acquisition comes amid continuing controversy over the handling of a multibillion-dollar Boeing aircraft lease deal that fell through last year and led to the conviction of former Air Force executive Darleen Druyun on charges of conspiring to violate conflict-of-interest rules.

Druyun admitted in court that she favored Boeing because the company gave jobs to her daughter and son-in-law. Her admission led to a detailed Pentagon review of her nearly 10-year tenure as a key weapons buyer for the Air Force and prompted rival defense companies to file protests over Boeing contracts awarded during that period.

The episode has taken a toll on the Air Force. Since Roche’s departure, the White House has not nominated anyone to replace him as the Air Force secretary, a post that requires Senate confirmation. Some believe the current Navy secretary, Gordon England, will get the nomination.

The Pentagon said it took the weapons-buying authority away from the Air Force “to ensure continuity of program oversight” – suggesting that Air Force leadership is too thin to handle the big decisions.

The 21 programs include a $59.2 billion Boeing contract for C-17A Globemaster II advanced cargo aircraft, and a $31.7 billion Boeing and Lockheed Martin contract for the Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle. Decisions on moving these and other programs beyond certain designated milestones will be made by Wynne rather than by an Air Force acquisition official.

The Pentagon said it has set no timetable for restoring Air Force oversight, but it suggested it would take at least six months. Wynne asked the Air Force to give him a list of all significant decisions expected for the 21 programs in the next six months.

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© 2005 The Associated Press