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Long Fall for Pentagon Star

An official at Druyun's level would not normally decide the outcome of as many competitions as she did or get involved in the nitty-gritty of contract negotiations, according to people in the industry. Those tasks were left to underlings who made the decisions themselves or offered their recommendations. "Once in a blue moon there will be a mess where you can't resolve an issue and the issue will float up the chain of command," said John W. Douglas, the former assistant Navy secretary for research, development and acquisition.

Druyun, however, actively discouraged her staff from making recommendations, according to a former defense official who worked with her. "She began accreting this authority up to her," said the official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the ongoing investigations. "She would say, 'Don't send it up with a recommendation, just send it up with information.' "

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)

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The power creep did not escape the notice of her superiors. In one or two cases, "I was surprised she was getting involved, but they were large [contracts] and . . . she was a hands-on kind of person," said Jacques Gansler, the Pentagon's acquisition chief from 1997 to 2001. "People above and around her in the Air Force should have been overseeing her."

The rough edges of Druyun's personality also emerged. Staff members who seemed unprepared or provided Druyun with inadequate or faulty information would be frozen out of later meetings, according to government and industry officials who worked with her. "Those who have feared going to see the 'Dragon Lady' only feared if they didn't have their act together, or were trying to 'cover' an error," retired Air Force Brig. Gen. Lawrence A. Mitchell said in a letter of support included in court records. "She justifiably had no time for 'BS-ers' or liars."

Gradually, Druyun's allegiances began to shift as her personal and professional lives became entangled. When her daughter's fiance, Michael McKee, was looking for a job in 2000, she contacted a longtime Boeing associate, Michael M. Sears, the company's chief financial officer, for help, according to court records. McKee was hired for a position in St. Louis. Druyun also helped her daughter, Heather, land a job at Boeing two months later -- a position created for her, the records show.

After years fostering a reputation as the defense contractors' toughest adversary, Druyun felt indebted to Boeing. She then made a series of decisions that were rooted in her sense of gratitude, she told the court.

In 2000, she agreed to increase the size of a Boeing contract for C-17 transport planes by $412 million. Two years later, she restructured the company's program to modernize 18 NATO planes used as airborne command posts, and approved a $100 million payment.

In 2001, Druyun picked Boeing over Lockheed to upgrade the avionics on C-130 transport planes. The decision stunned industry analysts because Lockheed had built the planes and was considered the most probable choice to modernize them. Industry analysts pointed to the competition as proof that Boeing's strategy to apply commercial technology to the military sector was working and that Lockheed was failing to capture the Air Force's imagination.

But Druyun soon had a new boss: Marvin R. Sambur, who managed the $1.5 billion defense business of ITT Industries Inc., was appointed Air Force acquisition chief in late 2001.

Sambur said he was surprised to learn that Druyun, not her subordinates, was deciding the outcome of competitions and contract bonuses, which often made up a company's profit margin. Druyun also hoarded information and kept the decision-making process secret, he said in an interview. He felt, Sambur said, like summer help.

"At the beginning when I came in here, a lot of people in the meetings would look to her to see if she agreed with what I had to say," Sambur said. "The recognition was . . . she's going to be here for a long time and I may be like the other acquisition people who stayed here for a relatively short period of time or didn't have the type of background necessary to run this."

Sambur said he began dismantling Druyun's power. First, he stripped her of the ability to decide competitions, then took away her authority to negotiate final contract terms or change requirements.

With her authority diminished, Druyun told Sambur that she intended to retire. Federal regulations restricted what kind of job Druyun, now the civilian equivalent of a lieutenant general, could take in the defense industry, but she soon forged a handshake agreement to join the executive ranks of Lockheed, the Pentagon's largest contractor.

Meanwhile, Druyun also met with Lockheed's largest rival, Boeing, about a job, according to court documents. She initially used her daughter Heather as intermediary. In e-mails to Sears, Heather said that her mother would consider moving out of Washington but insisted on a position with considerable responsibility.

Druyun soon reneged on her agreement with Lockheed, according to court records, and accepted a position at Boeing as a vice president. She had barely moved in when she became the center of controversy again.

In her final months at the Pentagon, Druyun was the chief negotiator of a $20 billion program to lease, then purchase, Boeing 767s converted into refueling tankers. The proposal had attracted the attention of the Senate Commerce Committee chairman, John McCain (R-Ariz.), who called the proposal a welfare program for Boeing and criticized Sambur and other Air Force officials for their handling of the deal.

Critics said it was more than a coincidence that Druyun, the chief Air Force negotiator, would take a $250,000-a-year job with Boeing. Boeing publicly defended the tanker proposal and its employment of Druyun, but also hired an outside law firm to investigate the hiring. The firm found that the employment talks had occurred while Druyun was overseeing Boeing contracts -- a violation of federal law. Druyun was fired and pleaded guilty, sparing prosecution of her daughter, who was named as an unindicted co-conspirator. Sears, who negotiated Druyun's employment, is scheduled to plead guilty on Monday.

Druyun would still not reveal the entire truth for several months -- and only then after failing two polygraph tests. After initially admitting only to a technical violation -- holding improper employment discussions -- she acknowledged years of preferential treatment of Boeing. She agreed to a higher price on the tanker deal as a "parting gift" to the firm, she told the court.

"Getting to the truth of matters can sometimes be difficult," Druyun's lawyer, John M. Dowd, told the judge before she was sentenced. "There is no denying [Darleen] made a serious mistake and there is no denying she had difficulty coming to grips with certain matters."

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