FBI Joins Probe Into Contract From Air Force

F-16 Thunderbirds from Nellis Air Force Base, Nev., refuel as they fly to an air show in Oklahoma. The FBI is looking into the awarding of a $50 million contract to do publicity for the stunt team.
F-16 Thunderbirds from Nellis Air Force Base, Nev., refuel as they fly to an air show in Oklahoma. The FBI is looking into the awarding of a $50 million contract to do publicity for the stunt team. (By Randy Stotler -- The Lawton Constitution Via Associated Press)

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Friday, May 19, 2006

The Pentagon's inspector general and the FBI have launched a criminal investigation into the awarding of a $50 million contract to a Pennsylvania company to produce a high-tech promotional video and do other publicity work for the Air Force's Thunderbirds air show team, a senior Air Force official said yesterday.

The contract was canceled in February after a protest from a losing bidder led the Air Force and the Government Accountability Office to review the manner in which it had been awarded. Air Force Secretary Michael W. Wynne then asked the Pentagon's inspector general to look into the matter. The inspector general's office asked the FBI to become involved after coming to suspect that a crime might have been committed.

An FBI spokesman in Washington declined to comment, referring all questions to the Air Force.

The Air Force issued a statement last night that confirmed the investigation but said it could not comment on the inquiry. "Unfortunately, because of the ongoing litigation and investigation it is inappropriate to address specifics concerning the issue," it said. The FBI probe was the subject of an ABC News report last night.

The Arizona Republic reported in March that the Pennsylvania company, Strategic Message Solutions, won the contract even though its bid was almost twice that of a competing proposal by an Arizona company, SRO Media. Retired Gen. Hal M. Hornburg had become a partner in Strategic Message Solutions not long after leaving the Air Force. The newspaper said it had obtained documents showing that Gen. T. Michael Moseley, the Air Force chief of staff, had helped steer the contract to Strategic Message Solutions.

Hornburg could not be reached for comment, and Moseley's spokesman did not return calls.

-- Thomas E. Ricks


© 2006 The Washington Post Company

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