Air Force Told to Detail No-Work Contract Deal

By Robert O'Harrow Jr.
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, October 6, 2007

The Senate Armed Services Committee has asked the Air Force to explain a contracting arrangement in which a civilian nominated to a senior position at the Pentagon was paid $13,400 a month by a contractor while his nomination was awaiting White House approval, a committee spokeswoman said yesterday.

Charles D. Riechers, now the principal deputy assistant secretary for acquisition, was hired by the Commonwealth Research Institute at the Air Force's request, even though he said he had not met company officials before they made him a senior technical adviser, according to documents and interviews.

Riechers said the work for the Air Force had nothing to do with the Johnstown, Pa., company, which is registered with the Internal Revenue Service as a nonprofit charity. "I really didn't do anything for CRI," he said Monday in The Washington Post. "I got a paycheck from them."

On Thursday, Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl M. Levin (D-Mich.) criticized the deal during a hearing on the pending nominations of Pentagon officials. While questioning John Young Jr., the nominee for undersecretary of defense for acquisition, technology and logistics, Levin expressed concern about the Air Force arrangement.

"Here we had some Air Force official telling a contractor to pay somebody $13,400 a month for work not being performed for that company," Levin told Young. "It seems to me, that is unsustainable. It's wrong. Would you agree with that?"

Young said that if confirmed, he would "look at it in detail" and report back to the committee. "Yes, I'm troubled with those dimensions of it, sir," he told Levin.

Jennifer Bentley, an Air Force spokeswoman, said the service was cooperating with the request for information about Riechers's job, which she said was common arrangement to help the service under an existing contract. "We're engaging Senator Levin to give him all the details," Bentley said.

Riechers was nominated for his Air Force post last fall. At the time, he had been working with the service as a contractor for SRI International. The job ended after he was nominated. The Air Force asked Commonwealth Research to take on Riechers while he awaited White House confirmation. He worked for the group from Nov. 27 to Jan. 25.

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

Concurrent, also registered as a charity, reported more than $248 million in revenue for fiscal 2006. In a report last year, the firm said it was among the Defense Department's top 200 contractors, with a focus on intelligence, surveillance, force readiness and advanced materials.

Riechers was paid through a $45 million sole-source Air Force contract with Commonwealth Research to provide reports to the Air Force and intelligence agencies.

In his questioning of Young on Thursday, Levin expressed dismay.

"I think it raises the kind of question that makes you ask, what is going on in the contracting world that that is done," Levin said. "Are there any rules against this kind of thing, paying people for work they didn't perform for the entity that is paying the person? Where is the accountability if that takes place?"

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