Former Air Force secretary James G. Roche violated two military ethics rules when he urged a defense contractor to hire the brother of a senior Office of Management and Budget official while the Air Force was trying to win OMB endorsement of a new $30 billion aircraft leasing program, according to the Defense Department's top auditor.
Roche misused his public office for someone else's private gain and violated Pentagon rules governing the personal use of e-mail systems in his dealings on the matter, Inspector General Joseph E. Schmitz said in a previously undisclosed Jan. 31 letter to members of the Senate Armed Services Committee.
Schmitz told the lawmakers he provided the results of his inquiry into Roche's actions to the office of Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld late last month; a spokesman for Rumsfeld, Bryan Whitman, said Rumsfeld has not yet read it. Roche did not reply to messages sent yesterday by the Air Force on behalf of The Washington Post, but he told Schmitz during the probe that his intervention was personal and not official, and thus he believed he violated no Pentagon rules.
Schmitz's criticisms of Roche revolve around an e-mail exchange in 2003 between Roche and OMB Associate Director Robin Cleveland. They are the latest in a series the inspector general's office has made against the Air Force and its management over the handling of a three-year-old proposal to lease Boeing 767 jet aircraft for use as military refueling planes.
Dealings between Air Force and Boeing officials on the tankers have resulted in two criminal indictments, stymied the careers of senior Air Force military officers and prompted senior Boeing officials to resign. A former senior Air Force acquisitions official, Darleen Druyun, is serving a nine-month jail term for violating ethics rules by conducting employment discussions with Boeing during her deliberations on the lease and by granting the company special favors.
All her other dealings with Boeing are still being investigated by Schmitz.
Roche resigned Jan. 20, partly in an effort to fend off continuing congressional criticism of the tanker leasing deal, according to the Air Force's top acquisitions official, Marvin Sambur, who described his own January resignation as motivated by that aim.
A copy of the e-mail exchange involving Roche was made public last year by Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), who with Armed Services Committee Chairman John W. Warner (R-Va.) has termed the leasing deal one of the most significant contracting abuses in several decades.
In the exchange, Cleveland, who oversees the budgeting of national security programs, sent Roche a résumé for her brother on May 9, 2003, saying: "I would appreciate anything you can do to help with NG [Northrop Grumman]" -- a firm where Roche had been a senior executive.
Her request came as the administration was trying to develop a consensus on the leasing plan, which other top OMB officials had called a waste of money. Roche forwarded Cleveland's e-mail to a senior Northrop lawyer, with his own endorsement of her brother. He told Cleveland what he had done, adding, "Be well. Smile. Give tankers now (Oops, did I say that? . . .)."
Northrop did not hire Cleveland's brother. Roche protested to Schmitz, in a letter sent a few days before his resignation, that his note to the Northrop official was a personal communication to a friend. But Schmitz told lawmakers that he did not accept this explanation and that Roche had wrongly indicated the Air Force endorsed the brother's employment.
Warner said in a statement yesterday that Schmitz's "letter speaks for itself." He added that he is still waiting for a "full accountability assessment of top DoD and Air Force officials in the Boeing matter" that lawmakers asked for more than a year ago.
Col. Dewey Ford, an Air Force spokesman, had no comment on the report. OMB spokesman Chad Kolton declined to say whether the agency had received a reply from the Justice Department to an inquiry about the propriety of Cleveland's actions. "We don't as a matter of practice comment on internal personnel processes," Kolton said.