A Navy contractor held a party Friday afternoon in the same Arlington office building that houses a key military installation, the Naval Sea Systems Command. It was billed as a "Toast to the Redskins," and star quarterback Joe Theismann was there, along with two linebackers and a group of Redskinettes.
No less a figure than Adm. Hyman G. Rickover tried to stop it, pointing out in a hard-edged memo that the party at the offices of Columbia Research Corp. -- a consulting firm with $4 million in government contracts, most of them with the Navy -- represented the type of conflict and favor-giving that plagues the field of government contracting.
"Make every effort to get Columbia Research Corp. to cancel the party," wrote Rickover. "The purpose is to gain favor with customers responsible for spending government money . . . (It is) intended to influence Navy officials to award business to them."
Rickover's entreaty was of little avail.
The consulting firm ignored him, saying the party was just business as usual. And when the party was in full swing on the 13th floor of the National Center Building, there, among the 200 or so guests, were several Navy personnel.
Rickover said the party and ties between the Navy and the consulting firm raises serious questions. He noted that:
The consulting firm is headed by retired vice admiral [Robert C. Gooding] who used to head the Naval Sea Systems Command (NAVSEA).
The firm leases office space in the same office.
The party "will be distracting government employes from their business and placing them in positions in which conflicts of interest may arise."
Attendance at the party could violate Defense Department and Navy policy.
Thomas J. Jira, a vice president in the consulting firm, said yesterday that he saw nothing improper about the reception. He said that it was open to the public, and he pointed out that many CRC contracts are with private firms, not with government.
The reception was planned about two months ago, Jira said, as part of the company's routine marketing efforts to advertise and win new business.
Invitations to the reception were placed on car windshields in the garage of the NAVSEA building last week. The party was scheduled from 11:15 a.m. to 12:45 p.m. Friday -- so that government officials could attend on their lunch hour, Jira said.
The redskinettes, attired in scanty outfits, stood in a cafeteria next to the building, inviting people to come upstairs to meet the Redskins and share in the free champagne.
In interviews, Redskins linebacker Pete Wysocki and Theismann, who were paid to attend along with linebacker Brad Dusek, said they were unaware beforehand of the purpose of the reception.
"All we did was sign autographs and say hello," Wysocki said. "What happens when I'm not around, that's their business."
Said Theismann: "I looked at it like any other banquet. It was really just an autograph session."
Last week, The Washington Post published a five-part series on problems in federal consulting and research contracting. The series examined the "revolving door" -- with government officials taking posts as federally-funded consultants -- and government officials accepting favors from contractors.
The series ended last Thursday. That morning, the day before the party, NAVSEA officials decided to instruct their employes that it would be "inappropriate for them to attend the function," said NAVSEA Cmdr. Paul Carpenter.
In a letter dated Thursday from Adm. James Webber to CRC president Norman Witbeck, he urged the firm to cancel the party and cautioned them against inviting government employes to future functions of this sort.
The consulting firm's Jira said he received a telephone call from a Navy official before the party.
"He suggested we were doing something wrong, something illegal, and he asked us to cancel it. . . I knew we weren't doing anything wrong and I tried to be as diplomatic as possible."
Columbia Research president Witbeck acknowledged in an interview during the party that Navy personnel were in attendance, but said most of the guests were not federal employes. "I doubt there's more than a handful" of Navy personnel at the party, he said.
In a Thursday memo sent to the NAVSEA commander and to the Secretary of Navy, Adm. Rickover wrote:
"There is no relationship that I know of between the Washington Redskins football team, its cheerleaders, and the work of the Naval Sea Systems Command. If, in fulfilling its responsibility for acquiring and maintaining ships and weapons, the Navy needs assistance from the Redskins, and cheerleaders, the Navy is in worse shape than I had thought."
Rickover also wrote:
"If the judgement exercised by Columbia Research Corporation in sponsoring and promoting the proposed party is indicative of the judgement the company applies under Navy contracts, this incident underscores the waste that is so often associated with consulting contracts. . .
"To the extent consulting contracts are necessary -- and I believe that in nearly all cases the Navy would be better off without them -- the determination of who gets what contract should depend strictly on the bonafide needs of the Navy and the capability of the firm.
"There should be no room in the process for a consulting firm to enhance its business based on personal contacts or social activities."
A member of Rickover's staff said yesterday that the admiral would have no comment on his memo.
Kenneth Hannah, a CRC vice president, said in an interview yesterday that he felt his firm did nothing improper. He said nothing of value was given to government officials, and that all the costs of the reception were paid out of company profits, and not from federal funds.