The Pentagon's chief auditor and three of his top subordinates have been accused of violating federal personnel rules in an effort to punish a whistle blower who questioned an Air Force contractor's $1 million bill for wining and dining the Defense Department brass.
According to K. William O'Connor, special counsel to the Merit Systems Protection Board, his investigation showed that four officials of the Defense Contract Audit Agency attempted to punish George R. Spanton, an auditor stationed in West Palm Beach, because he talked to the news media.
O'Connor asked the merit board to discipline Charles O. Starrett Jr., director of the audit agency, as well as Deputy Director James R. Brown, Atlanta regional director Paul Evans and Arlin R. Tueller, regional audit manager.
If the board agrees, it could order the Defense Department to fine the employes up to $1,000 or demote, suspend or fire them. It also could bar them from federal employment for up to five years.
O'Connor's charges come when the Pentagon is under fire from Congress for supposedly allowing government contractors to increase their costs, sometimes by exorbitant amounts, with little justification.
In his report, O'Connor said his evidence indicates a "pervasive attitude" at the audit agency "that reflects undue regard and solicitude for the concerns of contractors and procurement officials . . . ."
"The job of an auditor is to root out problems within government," he said. "Mr. Spanton did his job and for that he was punished."
A spokesman for Starrett and the audit agency said neither he nor the other men charged would comment.
Spanton's problems began in 1981 when he filed an age-discrimination complaint against Evans, O'Connor said. Spanton later testified on behalf of another employe at a personnel hearing.
O'Connor said the actions prompted Spanton's superiors in Atlanta to label him as "not supporting management" and threaten to reassign him outside the Atlanta region.
Shortly after those episodes, Spanton audited the Pratt & Whitney Aircraft Group and questioned more than $1 million in entertainment expenses spent mostly to court Pentagon officials.
The regional office held up the report for five months, O'Connor said, and sent it to Washington only after Spanton independently contacted other federal investigators, who notified the FBI. Within a few weeks, a grand jury was formed in Florida to investigate Pratt & Whitney's billings.
In his 11-page complaint, O'Connor said Spanton's direct supervisors, Tueller and Evans, asked a Pratt & Whitney executive to request that Spanton be transferred. O'Connor also accused the two managers of giving false information about their actions to federal investigators.
O'Connor said Brown, as deputy director, ordered the original transfer in retribution for Spanton's age-discrimination suit and his support of a fellow employe's suit.
In the wake of his accusations about Pratt & Whitney, Spanton was ordered to report to a new job in California. When he protested, contending that the transfer was intended to make him quit, Defense Secretary Caspar W. Weinberger rescinded the transfer and Spanton was assured he wouldn't be relocated until March, 1983, when his five-year tour ended. The Pentagon requires auditors to change assignments every five years.
Spanton later asked DOD to waive its five-year rule because he planned to retire this December and wanted to stay in Florida. The department declined on March 10, the same day that Spanton appeared on a network news program claiming he was being harassed by DOD. Spanton's transfer was rescinded by DOD in April, at O'Connor's request.
In his complaint, O'Connor said Starrett denied Spanton's request to remain in Florida on the basis of undocumented accusations which Starrett made no effort to investigate.