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Air Force-Boeing Negotiator Criticized

Close Relationship Questioned on Hill

By Renae Merle
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, October 27, 2003; Page A11

To hear defense contractors describe her, Darleen A. Druyun was a formidable opponent, one of the most powerful women in the Pentagon and someone who could cripple a cherished program with a scornful eye. Her nickname, they say, was "Dragon Lady."

Druyun, a former weapons buyer for the Air Force, was also known to keep the interests of the industry's giants in mind, understanding that thriving contractors were necessary to ensure that vital Air Force contracts would be fulfilled. Now, her role in negotiating a lease with Boeing Co. for 100 tanker planes has drawn criticism from Capitol Hill.

Darleen A. Druyun, a former weapons buyer for the Air Force, helped negotiate a lease with Boeing Co. for 100 tanker planes.

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That criticism centers on whether Druyun, while with the Air Force, became too close to the industry she was negotiating with on taxpayers' behalf. Congressional critics have charged she promoted the contract as welfare for a struggling Boeing, where she went to work shortly after retiring from the Air Force last November.

A lifelong bureaucrat, Druyun built a reputation for riding contractors who fell behind schedule or went over budget, usually in an abrupt, humorless style, according to several industry officials and former Air Force officials who worked for her. "I have never seen her not be a fierce advocate for the Air Force, " said Jim McAleese, a defense industry lawyer who has negotiated with her.

Druyun's complex working relationship with Boeing is illustrated by company e-mails related to the tanker lease. In an internal October 2001 e-mail, a Boeing executive predicted that "Darleen will make the actual contract favorable," adding that she promised to help win the support of Wall Street for the deal.

But in an April 2002 e-mail, another executive said that "Darleen repeatedly came at us on price through the discussions." Still, the Air Force settled on a price that other government officials thought was too high.

"I am surprised that anyone has accused her of protecting [defense companies]. If you took a cross-section of people in industry and government, you would find that she has an outstanding reputation for integrity and she consistently pushed industry for better products at lower costs to the taxpayer," said Bill Sheehan, Druyun's attorney. Druyun, 56, declined to comment for this story.

Twice she has found herself under official scrutiny for allegedly veering across an ethical line. She was cleared after the first investigation. One aspect of her role in the Boeing lease negotiations is part of an inspector general's probe.

Over her 33-year government career, Druyun negotiated and supervised hundreds of programs, but one would come to dominate tenure: the C-17. She even claimed for herself the title of "Godmother of the C-17."

The program, designed to produce a plane for carrying heavy equipment around the world, was running behind schedule and was over budget in the early 1990s. The prime contractor, McDonnell Douglas, also was under financial pressure.

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