- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 5, 2005

The Pentagon is not expected to seek the renomination of its candidate for the job of top weapons buyer, defense officials said yesterday.

The decision would deliver a victory to Sen. John McCain, Arizona Republican, who held up the nomination last year over a much-criticized Air Force proposal to lease tanker refueling jets.

Defense and industry sources said Michael W. Wynne, the acting undersecretary of defense for acquisition, technology and logistics, probably will not be sent to the Senate again for confirmation as full undersecretary. His nomination languished in the Senate for months, after Mr. McCain opposed it, as well as a number of other Pentagon candidates. All pending White House nominations died when Congress adjourned last year.

“I am certain Wynne won’t be sent back over,” said one senior defense official.

Defense industry executives also said they have been told by Pentagon officials that Mr. Wynne will not be renominated by the White House.

The defense sources said Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld’s staff is looking at John Young, the Navy’s top weapons buyer, to become Defense Department acquisition chief — one of five undersecretaries in the Pentagon’s top-tier bureaucracy.

Mr. Young is a former staffer on the Senate Appropriations Committee. Mr. Young is well-liked among senators and, as a Navy official, is not linked to the Air Force’s $30 billion tanker deal, congressional aides said.

A senate aide said it’s a “safe bet” that Mr. McCain would oppose Mr. Wynne again if the administration re-submitted his name.

Mr. McCain, a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, has spearheaded opposition to a multibillion-dollar proposal from the Air Force to lease tankers from Boeing Co. The leased 767s would replace an aging refueling fleet further stressed by the global war on terror.

The deal became mired in scandal when it was discovered that former Air Force official Darleen Druyan sweetened the deal for Boeing in exchange for a $250,000-a-year job. Mrs. Druyan this week began serving a nine-month prison sentence after pleading guilty to violating federal laws against conflict of interest.

Mr. McCain charges that the lease proposal was nothing more than a bailout for Boeing, that the Air Force exaggerated its need for replacement tankers and that new aircraft could be bought for less money.

In a November floor speech, Mr. McCain said the lease deal “appears to be a case of either a systemic failure in procurement oversight, willful blindness or rank corruption. Either way, full accountability among Air Force leadership is in order.”

He has butted heads with Mr. Rumsfeld over access to reams of documents and e-mails, some of which he has acquired and released to the press.

Mr. McCain told the Associated Press last month that he has “no confidence” in Mr. Rumsfeld principally because he failed to put enough troops in Iraq, where a deadly insurgency continues to kill Americans on a daily basis.

The trail of e-mails show Air Force Secretary James R. Roche doggedly pursued the Boeing deal and disparaged those in the Pentagon who raised questions, according to documents released by Mr. McCain.

Mr. Wynne’s role was less clear. Mr. Wynne, who oversees Air Force procurement as Mr. Rumsfeld’s top weapons buyer, agreed with Mr. Roche to rebuke senior Pentagon officials who worked against the deal. But Mr. Wynne also argued that a second contractor was needed to compete with Boeing. For this, he felt the sting of Mr. Roche’s criticism in several e-mails.

“It’s not my question to answer,” Mr. Wynne said through a spokesman yesterday when asked whether he planned to continue pursuing the job.

Questions about the deal, which remains the subject of investigations by the Pentagon and U.S. Justice Department, have scuttled several other nominations.

Mr. Rumsfeld wanted Mr. Roche to become Army secretary. But Mr. McCain and other senators balked, and the White House eventually withdrew his name. Mr. Roche has announced his resignation as Air Force secretary, effective Jan. 20.

In a December interview with the Air Force Times, Mr. Roche said the e-mails only represented partial information. He continued to defend the proposal, saying the war was further degrading the existing fleet.

“I’m not ashamed to say that I was a vigorous proponent of trying to hedge this problem, and I still am,” he said.

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