The Justice Department has ruled out possible conflict-of-interest prosecutions of eight Pentagon task force members, at least seven of whom have financial interests in companies that would benefit from the task force's proposed policy to "standardize" computers bought for military uses.
"This matter does not present a prosecutable violation of federal criminal law," Gerald E. McDowell, chief of the public integrity section, said in an Oct. 25 letter to the General Accounting Office, which referred the matter to Justice last summer.
At House Government Operations subcommittee hearings in July, GAO Comptroller General Charles A. Bowsher testified that the task force policy, which is endorsed by Defense Secretary Caspar W. Weinberger, could shift billions of dollars worth of contracts from computer firms that compete in a volatile marketplace to military suppliers with "little or no commercially oriented computer capability."
Because of "the tilt of task force membership toward interests that support the proposed policy," Bowsher testified, its conclusions "cannot reasonably be looked upon as having been objectively reached, irrespective of the merits of those policies."
Bowsher said that seven of 11 task force members had "financial interests in one or more of the firms" that have Army, Navy or Air Force contracts for the computers being considered for Pentagon standardization. There was no explanation as to why the Justice Department included an eighth member.
Several members of the Defense Science Board's Task Force on Embedded Computer Resources Acquisition and Management have said there was no impropriety involved in their actions.
McDowell wrote that his office had reviewed the files of the GAO's investigation into the task force and the record of the House Government Operations subcommittee hearings last summer. In addition, he said his office met with Defense Audit Service investigators who are reviewing "policies, procedures and practices" of the DSB, the Pentagon's highest-ranking advisory body.
The board created the task force at the urging of Under Secretary of Defense for Research and Engineering Richard D. DeLauer. Before coming to the Pentagon he was a DSB member and an executive vice president and director of TRW Inc., a leading aerospace contractor. TRW, the only company with two representatives on the task force, is a partner in a joint venture to develop an advanced computer for the Army.
Deputy Defense Secretary Frank C. Carlucci testified on Aug. 4 that there was no conflict of interest but that the Pentagon had been "sloppy" in not requiring task force members to file financial disclosure forms before the panel considered and endorsed the policy.