Orbital's Key Appointment

The timing couldn't have been worse -- or perhaps better.

On May 25, Dulles-based rocket-maker Orbital Sciences Corp. seemingly scored a coup when it announced that former Air Force secretary James G. Roche had been appointed to its board of directors.

The next morning, Orbital Sciences facilities in Dulles and Chandler, Ariz., were raided by federal agents in an investigation the company says is centered around contracting procedures it uses in its dealings with the federal government.

Embarrassing news? No doubt. But Orbital now can turn to Roche, who was Air Force secretary from 2001 until January, for advice as it works its way through the investigation, headed by the U.S. attorney's office in Phoenix.

Roche, a retired Navy captain who has a doctorate from Harvard Business School, brings some starry credentials -- and a touch of controversy -- to his new board position.

His responsibilities as Air Force secretary included overseeing a more than $90 billion budget and "organizing, training and equipping the service's 700,000 active duty, Reserve, Guard and civilian personnel to be prepared to defend America's security and our vital interests around the world," Orbital noted in a news release.

Unmentioned was that Roche resigned as Air Force secretary following a controversy over a program to lease and then buy tanker aircraft from Boeing Co.

Roche also worked for Northrop Grumman Corp. from 1984 through 2000. And as a former senior staff member of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, he knows the ways of Capitol Hill.

In welcoming Roche to Orbital, the company's chairman and chief executive, David W. Thompson, said: "At a time when Orbital's business is shifting towards U.S. military space and missile defense markets, as well as to other adjacent national security areas, we expect that Jim's decades of leadership experience in both government and the defense industry will provide Orbital with valuable strategic insights and practical operational wisdom as we aim to increase our presence in these markets."

As for the investigation of its contracting procedures, Orbital spokesman Barron Beneski said the company does not think it has done anything wrong.

Orbital has about 1,100 employees at its Dulles headquarters.

Home Prices: Up, Up, Up

The median sales price of a piece of residential real estate in Loudoun County -- townhouses, condominiums and single-family houses -- rose to $470,000 in April from $355,000 a year earlier, according to figures provided by the Dulles Area Association of Realtors.

The market is more active this year, too. In April, 760 home sales were recorded in Loudoun, up from 685 the year earlier.

Stay tuned for the May data.

Biotech 101

Honest, that's what the Leesburg Economic Development Commission is calling its seminar Wednesday to educate policymakers and others on the economic feasibility of the biotech industry in Leesburg and elsewhere in Loudoun County.

"Since many of us are not up to speed on biotech, it is an important first step for us to have a baseline understanding of biotechnology -- what it is, its potential economic impact, and where it is headed," commission Chairman Karen Jones said in a news release.

The commission has invited Leesburg and Loudoun officials -- and anyone else who wants to attend -- to the seminar at 4 p.m. in the lower level of the Ida Lee Recreation Center. The program will be conducted by Collins Jones of Biotech Primer Inc., a Baltimore-based biotech education firm. Jones also teaches at Montgomery College and Johns Hopkins University.

Loudoun officials say they hope the planned opening next year of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute's Janelia Farm Research Campus in eastern Loudoun will attract more biotech firms to the county.


Have news about a business in Loudoun County? Send an e-mail to brubaker@washpost.com.