Air Force Arranged No-Work Contract

By Robert O'Harrow Jr.
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, October 1, 2007

While waiting to be confirmed by the White House for a top civilian post at the Air Force last year, Charles D. Riechers was out of work and wanted a paycheck. So the Air Force helped arrange a job through an intelligence contractor that required him to do no work for the company, according to documents and interviews.

For two months, Riechers held the title of senior technical adviser and received about $13,400 a month at Commonwealth Research Institute, or CRI, a nonprofit firm in Johnstown, Pa., according to his resume. But during that time he actually worked for Sue C. Payton, assistant Air Force secretary for acquisition, on projects that had nothing to do with CRI, he said.

Riechers said in an interview that his interactions with Commonwealth Research were limited largely to a Christmas party, where he said he met company officials for the first time.

"I really didn't do anything for CRI," said Riechers, now principal deputy assistant secretary for acquisition. "I got a paycheck from them."

Riechers's job highlights the Pentagon's ties with Commonwealth Research and its corporate parent, which has in recent years received hundreds of millions of dollars worth of grants and contracts from the military, and more than $100 million in earmarks from lawmakers.

Commonwealth Research and its parent company, Concurrent Technologies, are registered with the Internal Revenue Service as tax-exempt charities, even though their primary work is for the Pentagon and other government agencies. In a recent report Concurrent, also based in Johnstown, Pa., said it was among the Defense Department's top 200 contractors, with a focus on intelligence, surveillance, force readiness and advanced materials.

Concurrent's top three executives each earn an average of $462,000. The company reported lobbying expenditures of $302,000 for the year ending in June 2006, more than double what it spent on lobbying four years earlier.

Concurrent and its subsidiaries receive grants and contracts for an eclectic variety of other activities, including support of faith-based initiatives and specialized welding work. Last year, Commonwealth Research got a $45 million sole-source arrangement to provide reports to the National Security Agency, CIA and other intelligence agencies.

IRS rules allow charitable organizations to engage in a wide range of activities, including services for the federal government. Commonwealth Research's president, Frank W. Cooper, said the company qualifies as a charity because it provides services both locally and to the federal government. He said it also serves as an educational institution.

But Marcus Owens, former director of the exempt organizations division at the IRS, said Concurrent and Commonwealth Research appear to be "providing the sorts of services that are commonly provided by business organizations like Boeing and Lockheed Martin and others, and not charities."

"There are a lot of businesses doing this kind of stuff that are paying taxes," said Owens, a partner at Caplin & Drysdale law firm. "It makes me wonder what the charitable purpose is here."

Specialists in federal contracting law said Commonwealth Research's arrangement with Riechers may have violated regulations governing how the Air Force is permitted to hire and use contractors, including a prohibition on certain uses of consultants to augment the federal workforce. The prohibition is designed in part to ensure that employees in sensitive government jobs serve the public and not corporate or other outside interests.

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