- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 2, 2003

ASSOCIATED PRESS

The Pentagon will delay plans to acquire 100 air-refueling tankers from Boeing Co. in light of a scandal at the aerospace giant that has led to the dismissal of two executives and the resignation of Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Philip M. Condit.

Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz said the Pentagon’s internal auditor will examine whether the conduct of the two executives had any negative impact on the contract to lease 20 tankers and buy another 80.

The Air Force initially proposed leasing all 100 tankers in an attempt to quickly update its aging fleet. Sen. John McCain, Arizona Republican, and other lawmakers had criticized the proposal as wasteful, and lawmakers worked out the compromise to lease 20 planes and buy the rest.

The change was expected to save billions of dollars from the original plan, estimated at about $21 billion.

In a letter Monday to leaders of the House and Senate Armed Services committees, Mr. Wolfowitz described the delay as “a pause.”

He said the Pentagon “remains committed to the recapitalization of our aerial tanker fleet and is appreciative of the compromise that will allow this arrangement to move forward.”

“Nonetheless, I believe that it is prudent to reassess this matter before proceeding,” he said.

Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman John W. Warner, Virginia Republican, responded to Mr. Wolfowitz yesterday, saying the Pentagon should take no action on the planes until the findings of the Pentagon inspector general have been made available for review by Congress, said John Ullyot, a spokesman for Mr. Warner.

Work on development of the tanker modifications is under way at Boeing’s Wichita, Kan., facility.

Boeing-Wichita spokesman Dick Ziegler said he would not characterize the Pentagon’s actions as a disappointment but called it “merely a pause” as Mr. Wolfowitz described in his letter.

Congressional advocates of the tanker plan stressed the urgency of updating the tanker fleet. Most of the planes are more than four decades old.

“Further delay of the tanker program, beyond the two years that have already elapsed since Congress first approved this plan, could result in greater costs to taxpayers and to our defense capability,” said Sen. Patty Murray, Washington Democrat.

Boeing’s commercial airplane division has headquarters in Washington state.

Boeing announced Nov. 24 it had fired its chief financial officer, Michael Sears, and a vice president, Darleen Druyun, a former Air Force official. A Boeing investigation found that Mr. Sears approached Miss Druyun about joining the company while she was overseeing Boeing contracts for the Air Force.

Boeing said that Mr. Sears and Miss Druyun were fired for violating company policies on hiring and that they tried to cover up the misconduct.

Mr. Condit resigned unexpectedly Monday, saying, “The controversies and distractions of the past year were obscuring the great accomplishments and performance of this company.”

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