- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 10, 2004


Air Force Secretary James G. Roche, whose nomination as Army secretary is stalled in Congress over a $21 billion leasing deal for Boeing and other issues, asked President Bush yesterday to withdraw his name.

Mr. Roche’s nomination had languished in the Senate Armed Services Committee since July, primarily because of Sen. John McCain, Arizona Republican, who criticized as wasteful and improper the $21 billion air tanker leasing arrangement Mr. Roche supported.

The committee was also waiting for an inspector general review of how Air Force leadership, including Mr. Roche, responded to charges of rape and sexual assault at the Air Force Academy.

Army Undersecretary Les Brownlee has been serving as the interim secretary.

“Given the range of issues before the Senate in a busy legislative year, I accept that my nomination is unlikely to be considered this year,” Mr. Roche said in a statement. “In the interest of the Department of Defense, I decided it was best that I withdraw from further consideration.”

Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said that Mr. Roche would have been “a first-rate secretary of the Army,” and that he looked forward to his continued service as Air Force secretary.

“I respect Secretary Roche’s decision and the committee will continue to work with him in supporting the men and women of the Air Force,” said Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman John W. Warner, Virginia Republican.

Mr. Warner had delayed consideration of Mr. Roche’s nomination until the Pentagon inspector general completes a report on how Air Force leadership responded to reports of 142 rapes and sexual assaults over a decade.

“That was an excuse,” said Sen. Wayne Allard, Colorado Republican, who raised the Air Force Academy issue. “I never felt there was an issue there. As soon as I notified him of the problems in the Air Force Academy, he responded immediately.”

Mr. Roche purged the academy leadership in March and issued sweeping new policies in an effort to strengthen the school’s sexual-assault response. Mr. Allard said he is confident the inspector general’s report will vindicate Mr. Roche.

Mr. Roche supported a $21 billion deal to lease converted Boeing 767s for use as tankers to refuel bombers, fighters and other planes in flight. Most of the KC-135 tankers now in use are at least 40 years old.

Mr. McCain said the deal amounted to corporate welfare for Boeing and a waste of money, since it would cost $5 billion less to purchase the planes outright and the tankers would be returned to Boeing after the lease expires.

It was later revealed that the company’s former chief financial officer, Michael Sears, had improperly discussed a potential job with senior Air Force procurement officer Darleen Druyun when she was in a position to influence the deal.

Miss Druyun was hired as deputy general manager of Boeing’s Missile Defense Systems unit, but both she and Mr. Sears were fired late last year and Boeing’s Chief Executive Officer Phil Condit resigned in December.

Mr. McCain declined to comment yesterday on Mr. Roche’s announcement.

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