- The Washington Times - Saturday, June 21, 2008

Two weeks after being ousted, Air Force Secretary Michael W. Wynne said Friday he had a “difference in philosophy” with his boss, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates, on numerous issues - not just on the nuclear slip-up that Mr. Gates said was his reason for removing Mr. Wynne.

On his final day in office, a relaxed-looking Mr. Wynne told a group of reporters that he is not angry about being forced out as the top civilian official of the Air Force. He defended his record, saying he had “pushed the system pretty hard” to ensure that the Air Force is at the leading edge of war fighting.

He indicated no animosity toward Mr. Gates, with whom he said he was “not aligned” on some key issues.

“When you have a difference of philosophy with your boss, he owns the philosophy and you own the difference,” he said.

Mr. Wynne, who took office Nov. 3, 2005, after serving as the Pentagon’s top weapons buyer, is being replaced by Michael B. Donley, who will hold the job as the acting secretary pending Senate confirmation as the permanent replacement.

Beyond matters of philosophy, Mr. Wynne said he and Mr. Gates differed on future investment in the new-generation F-22 stealth fighter, on the extent of Air Force personnel cuts and other substantive issues.

“There were differences that accrued,” Mr. Wynne said.

By coincidence, Mr. Wynne’s exit came on the same week that the Air Force suffered yet another major setback - a ruling by the Government Accounting Office that the service had made significant errors in awarding a $35 billion aircraft contract to Northrop Grumman and its European partner. The audit agency recommended that the Air Force reopen the bidding process.

Mr. Wynne likened that setback to the disappointment felt by a baseball player who made it to the World Series and then “struck out in the ninth inning” when the outcome of the game was at stake.

He indicated that the GAO ruling had rocked the Air Force and raised some tough questions internally. He also said it almost certainly means the Air Force will fail to put the planes into service starting in 2013, as planned.

“Of course the Air Force will try desperately to hold onto” that target date “because of the age of our [current] fleet,” he said.

Mr. Wynne said he saw no possibility that the GAO could be made to alter its findings. And although its recommendation that the bidding be reopened is not binding on the Air Force, Mr. Wynne indicated that after studying the decision further, the Air Force likely would issue a new request for contract bids.

“We were very disappointed,” by the decision, Mr. Wynne said in the Air Force’s most extensive comments thus far on a GAO ruling that gives ammunition to Boeing supporters in Congress who have been seeking to block funding for the tanker deal or to force a new competition.

“The reason we are very disappointed I think is the intensity of effort that went into having a very open and a very transparent” competition between Boeing and Northrop Grumman, Mr. Wynne said. He spoke of “reshaping and revising” the competition, but he did not indicate that any final decisions had been made.

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