Two high-ranking naval officers relieved of duty last month because their California air base had paid $659 each for aircraft ashtrays have been cleared by an internal Navy investigation, congressional sources said yesterday.
According to these sources, investigators who spent the past month reviewing procurement practices at Miramar Naval Air Station near San Diego found no grounds for disciplining Rear Adm. Thomas J. Cassidy Jr., former commander of the base air wing, and Capt. Gary E. Hakanson, former base commander.
The sources said the two officers, who assumed command in 1983, were praised in the investigative report for trying to solve Miramar's acquisition problems.
The status of a third officer dismissed in connection with the procurement scandal -- Cmdr. Jerry Fronabarger, former supply officer at Miramar -- remained unclear, according to the Capitol Hill sources.
All three officers were relieved of duty May 31. Navy Secretary John F. Lehman Jr. said he had lost confidence in them because of Miramar's purchases of the ashtrays, $404 socket wrenches and $2,710 landing-gear clamps from Grumman Aerospace Corp.
The dismissals sparked an outcry by Navy officers -- unusual for men in uniform -- who accused Lehman of using the three officers as scapegoats to prove that the Pentagon is addressing procurement abuses.
Cassidy, 52, believed to be the first admiral relieved of duty because of contracting problems, and Hakanson, 47, complained publicly of unfair treatment.
They contended that they assumed their posts long after the controversial purchases and that they were dismissed without due process.
Lehman, who promised to reinstate the officers if they were exonerated in an internal investigation, was unavailable for comment yesterday.
A Navy spokesman said yesterday that the investigative report "is under review."
Rep. Bill Lowery (R-Calif.), whose district includes Miramar, issued a statement urging Lehman to reinstate Cassidy and Hakanson. Lowery said the two "were not at fault" for the overpricing and "conducted themselves with high professionalism."
"The Pentagon did not have the full story when the original decision to relieve these officers was made," he said.
The 15-man investigative team, led by Rear Adm. John Batzler, completed its work Tuesday, the sources said.
Copies were hand-carried Wednesday to Lehman and the vice chief of naval operations in Washington and the Pacific Fleet commander in Hawaii.
Investigators produced a 16-inch-thick report with 39 findings, including those clearing Cassidy and Hakanson, the sources said.
According to a report yesterday in the San Diego Union, Fronabarger was cited by investigators for failing to take appropriate action as supply officer when informed of contracting irregularities.
Cmdr. William D. Hoover, the Navy attorney assigned to Fronabarger, said in a telephone interview that the report is "clearly false."
He said his client wrote a 28-page report detailing his efforts to clear up procurement problems at Miramar.
Cassidy, reached at home, had no comment. Hakanson could not be reached.
All three officers have been assigned to temporary duty at Pacific Fleet headquarters since their dismissals.