A $191 Million Question
How a relationship between an Army official and a private contractor led to allegations of collusion and impropriety
Friday, August 7, 2009
He called her Princess. She called him Bubba. They got together whenever they could, sailing on the Chesapeake Bay, traveling to business conferences, taking long walks. They exchanged e-mails night and day.
"You been sleepin??" George Raymond wrote to Catherine Campbell in September 2005.
"I slept some," she wrote back. "Just got out of the shower."
"Oh boy," he wrote.
Theirs was a cozy relationship, and they worked in a world where such cozy relationships are officially frowned upon. Raymond, now 61, was the director of a technology program for the U.S. Army, and Campbell, now 47, was a favored contractor. As they grew close, the lines between their public duties and private lives blurred, drawing them into a morass of ethical and legal allegations surrounding government contracts worth up to $191 million.
The tale of their four-year relationship is an allegory for the chronic problems afflicting the government's $532 billion procurement system. Reforms a decade ago, intended to make the system more efficient and entrepreneurial, had unintended consequences: insufficient oversight, conflicts of interest, unprecedented outsourcing and an endlessly revolving door that leads government officials into the offices of contractors.
It also shows how accountability for contracting misdeeds at the Pentagon can be hard to come by, even when a whistleblower comes forward.
An internal Army inquiry last year found evidence that Raymond passed on confidential and sensitive government information to Campbell and allowed a firm she worked for to help write the terms of a contract, giving it an unfair advantage. The Army also concluded that Raymond was involved in the award of a contract worth up to $185 million to giant BearingPoint after Campbell went to work there, in a manner that created "at least an appearance of impropriety."
An official recommended that evidence be referred to the Army economic crimes unit at Fort Belvoir for "further investigation into possible criminal violations." But before that happened last summer, Raymond retired with full benefits, his reputation and top-secret clearance intact. He took a top job as an Army contractor at the giant Computer Sciences Corp. -- with references and recommendations from Army colleagues.
Raymond acknowledged in an interview that he had a close relationship with Campbell, but said the two were not lovers and neither he nor Campbell profited from their relationship. Campbell did not return repeated phone calls.
Raymond also said he was a product of the decade-old federal procurement philosophy that encourages close collaboration with contractors.
"Nobody ever pointed out that what I was doing was wrong," Raymond said. "I was never counseled."