- The Washington Times - Friday, April 18, 2008

ASSOCIATED PRESS

A Pentagon investigation found that a $50 million contract to promote the Thunderbirds aerial stunt team was tainted by improper influence and preferential treatment, leading to administrative action against three officials, the Air Force said yesterday.

Air Force Secretary Michael Wynne took administrative action against Maj. Gen. Stephen M. Goldfein, who was the commander responsible for the Thunderbirds at the time, as well as two others, and referred action on two additional personnel to their commanders, the service said.

Details of the inspector general’s report have not been released, but officials familiar with it said it did not find any criminal conduct. They said the Air Force’s chief of staff, Gen. T. Michael Moseley, was criticized in the report, but the probe did not find he was personally involved in the matter. Instead, the criticism is largely for his early communications with the eventual winning bidders.

The officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the report is not public, said it is most critical of Gen. Goldfein, who commanded the Air Warfare Center at Nellis Air Force Base, Nev., and was responsible for the Thunderbirds.

Mr. Wynne also ordered a review of contracting processes and a training program to correct problems uncovered by the investigation.

The investigation dates to 2005, and began with allegations that Gen. Moseley and other Air Force officers tried initially to give the work to Strategic Message Solutions and its president, Edward Shipley, without seeking bids.

The Air Force said the inspector general’s probe found that the contract was “tainted with improper influence, irregular contracting practices and preferential treatment for SMS.” The service also said the assistant U.S. attorney in Nevada declined to pursue criminal prosecution.

“I am deeply disappointed that our high standards were not adhered to in this case,” Mr. Wynne said. “This is not how the Air Force does business, and we are taking steps to ensure this doesn’t happen again.”

The investigation was conducted as Air Force leadership faced escalating problems, including questions about the service’s handling of nuclear and nuclear-related materials, challenges to a recent $35 billion Air Force tanker contract award and anger over efforts by the Air Force to lobby Congress for additional funding for the F-22 Raptor aircraft.


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