Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld blamed an Air Force procurement scandal on high turnover in top management positions, which he said reduced the amount of "adult supervision" of major weapons contracts over the past decade.
Cautioning that his view isn't yet "definitive," Rumsfeld said at a Pentagon news briefing yesterday that he had recently been looking into the case of former Air Force acquisition official Darleen A. Druyun, who last month was sentenced to nine months in prison after admitting to granting favors in contracts to aerospace giant Boeing Co. before going to work there. Earlier this month, Michael M. Sears, Boeing's former chief financial officer, pleaded guilty to a conflict-of-interest charge for his role in hiring Druyun while she was overseeing large contracts with the company.
Rumsfeld said he was struck that during the nine years in which Druyun had been a top Air Force weapons buyer, there had been heavy turnover among other senior managers who might have questioned some of her decisions if they had been on the job longer. From the time Druyun became the Air Force's deputy acquisition chief in 1993 until her retirement in 2002, he said, the positions of secretary of the Air Force, assistant secretary for acquisition and senior military official for acquisition had all changed several times.
"So what you had with all these vacancies over a 10-year period . . . the only continuity was that single person, who's now pled guilty and is going to go to jail," he said. "When you have that long period of time, with . . . no one above her and no one below her, over time I'm told that what she did was acquire a great deal of authority and make a lot of decisions, and there was very little adult supervision."
Rumsfeld linked the problem to one of his pet peeves about contemporary Washington: the difficulties posed by an elaborate -- and slow -- congressional confirmation process.
"Our entire department operates generally somewhere between 20 and 25 percent vacant in presidential appointees, Senate-confirmed, because of the nature of the ethics reviews, the FBI reviews and the Senate confirmation process," he said.
Rumsfeld has said another irksome aspect of the personnel system is how quickly military officers move from one position to another, meaning they sometimes don't stay in one spot long enough to really understand their jobs.
In this situation, he said, there was too little longtime experience in the management slots around Druyun overseeing the Air Force's $30 billion procurement budget. "You have too much turbulence on the military side, too much turbulence plus vacancies on the civilian side, and a person who has continuity -- the only one with continuity -- who is going to break the law."
Rumsfeld credited his own subordinates -- Air Force Secretary James G. Roche and acquisition chief Marvin R. Sambur -- with reining in Druyun. "I'm told that when Secretary Roche and Assistant Secretary Sambur came in, they looked at that situation, were uncomfortable with it, and began taking authorities away from her . . . and that was one of the reasons that apparently she began negotiating for her departure," he said.
Last week, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) criticized Roche, releasing e-mails that he said showed how Roche worked intensely behind the scenes to support a Boeing bid for a controversial contract to provide tanker aircraft. Druyun was chief negotiator on that deal, which drew sharp criticism from the Senate Armed Services Committee and has since been derailed. The Pentagon now plans to hold a competition for the refueling tanker contract.
At one point, according to e-mails released by McCain, a critic of the tanker contract, Roche wrote a friend at Raytheon Co., "Privately between us: Go Boeing!" In another e-mail, Roche said a Defense Department critic of the tanker deal should "pay an appropriate price" for objecting to it, according to documents released by McCain.
Roche announced his resignation recently, and Rumsfeld issued a statement hailing him for his service to the country.