In the macho world of the Pentagon, Darleen A. Druyun was rare: a woman who had scaled the heights of power, controlled billions of dollars in weapons programs and could punish or reward global corporations and the men who ran them.
Once the most feared woman in the world of military contracting, Druyun, 57, helped direct the Air Force's $30 billion procurement budget -- nearly three times the size of the Army's.
Air Force equipment is demonstrated for Darleen A. Druyun in this undated photo taken when she was a Pentagon procurement official.
(Linda Labonte Britt -- U.s. Air Force)
She was at the peak of her power as a top Air Force weapons buyer in 1999 when she scolded leaders of Lockheed Martin Corp., the world's largest defense contractor, for some of its work on satellites and rockets. Her tone was blunt: One program had "pitiful" software and a company proposal had a "crappy design." The incident contributed to the early retirement of one Lockheed executive and the company rushed to address Druyun's concerns, according to several people familiar with the situation.
But now it is Druyun who has fallen from grace. In April, she pleaded guilty to a conspiracy charge for negotiating for a job with Boeing Co. while still supervising the company's work for the Air Force. Last month she stunned military and industry leaders by admitting that she gave Boeing preferential treatment for years before taking a job with the company.
The Pentagon announced last week that because of Druyun's illegal behavior it has begun investigations into all of her contracting-related actions during her nine years as the Air Force's deputy acquisition chief. The Defense Department also began the largest review of how it buys weapons since the investigation of influence peddling in the 1980s known as Operation Ill Wind. The fallout could cost the government hundreds of millions of dollars as companies unfairly ruled out of contracts seek restitution for the costs they incurred during the bidding process.
Since she was sentenced to nine months in prison, a portrait of Druyun has emerged from court papers and interviews with her associates of a woman who acquired power beyond her status at the Air Force then walked over subordinates, humbled industry executives and sought personal advantage at government expense. Druyun is an imposing figure with a sharp -- and sometimes vulgar -- tongue, who was right at home in the male-dominated Pentagon world. Her renown as a tough government negotiator and stickler for the rules encouraged her superiors to rely on her judgment, according to industry insiders. For nearly 40 percent of her time at the Pentagon she had no supervisor at all. Her rise to power coincided with a government-wide push to build closer relationships with contractors as partners.
"I was surprised that someone who was around [during the Ill Wind investigation] would be in essence doing the same things that Ill Wind was all about," said Joseph J. Aronica, the lead prosecutor in that investigation, now a lawyer with Duane Morris LLP. "I guess these things in a way are cyclical. She may have thought no one was looking any more."
Druyun did not respond to letters and could not be reached by telephone to comment on this article. Her lawyer declined comment through his secretary.
Druyun began her career in government work in 1970 when she landed a job as an Air Force contractor negotiator at Warner Robins Air Logistics Center in Georgia. Her father, who had worked at the base for 40 years, was "instrumental" in getting her the job, according to court documents. Druyun's husband, William S. Druyun, is a retired Air Force official who was a mid-level manager at Falls Church-based General Dynamics Corp. before retiring in September.
For the next 20 years, she bounced between the Air Force, the Office of Management and Budget and NASA before being named the Air Force's deputy acquisition chief, a position she would hold until her retirement in November 2002.
But no sooner had she climbed the heights of Air Force procurement than she became involved in a controversy over work she had done three years before. She and four other Air Force officials were accused by Pentagon inspector general of improperly funneling $349 million to McDonnell Douglas Corp. in 1990 to keep the C-17 transport aircraft program on track. After a separate Air Force investigation found no wrongdoing, Defense Secretary Les Aspin dismissed one general and disciplined three others, saying the program was poorly managed. Druyun was cleared.
Gen. Merrill A. "Tony" McPeak, the Air Force chief of staff at the time, said he petitioned Aspin on Druyun's behalf. "I thought she was a strong person, giving strong leadership in the acquisition community, so if I was going to save one person I thought" it should be Druyun, said McPeak, who retired in 1994 and is now president of an aerospace consulting firm. "She was the one who would come into my office and tell me I was wrong about something. . . . She had the stomach to not be a yes-woman."
Druyun then reinvented herself as a reformer, developing "Lightning Bolt" initiatives that aimed to make Air Force weapons procurement more efficient and stressed the importance of a company's past performance in awarding new contracts. The Air Force said the program saved $20 billion.
The fortunes of defense contractors rested on Druyun's decisions on competitions, her policy decrees and her awards of bonuses. In 1999, she emerged as the Pentagon's top advocate of the F/A-22, a boon to Lockheed, the fighter jet's manufacturer. In 2001, Druyun eliminated Raytheon Co. from a $2.5 billion competition to build the small-diameter bomb, surprising industry handicappers and realigning the competitive landscape.