The Pentagon has been stung by procurement scandals and embarrassed by not a few overpriced toilet seats and hammers. You would think the brass might have learned a lesson. But you would be wrong.
The look-the-other-way school of purchasing appears to be alive and well at the Pentagon, under the tutelage of the new acting defense undersecretary for acquisition, Donald Yockey.
Yockey sailed into office last month as his predecessor, John Betti, sailed out on the wings of a procurement scandal. Betti was nailed with part of the blame for the bungled A-12 Avenger Navy warplane contract. The project was riddled with long delays and massive cost overruns.
Yockey had worked for Betti and, sources say, had openly campaigned for Betti's job. He reportedly went so far as to pass around copies of Betti's testimony last summer before Congress, which was looking into an epidemic of contracting scandals. At one awkward moment in a congressional hearing, Betti was stumped by a crucial question. He could not name one project manager who ever got promoted for alerting the Pentagon to problems with a contract.
Yockey says he did not campaign for Betti's job, and denies he spread around copies of Betti's bumbling testimony. But Yockey does not look like a savior. Sources inside the Pentagon told us Yockey's main goal is to "minimize government interference with contractors." In an internal memo on June 26, Yockey said as much: "A common complaint of industry . . . is that there are far too many government oversight personnel in contractor facilities."
Yockey ordered a study to see if the contractors had a valid complaint. Our associate Jim Lynch has seen a draft copy of the result -- a report that recommends reducing by 10 to 20 percent the time government inspectors spend in contractors' plants. According to the report, the Pentagon "strongly supports contractor self-governance programs."
The recommendation to give contractors more freedom will sail easily through the Pentagon bureaucracy. Congress doesn't technically have the authority to stop the Pentagon from doing this, but Rep. John Dingell (D-Mich.) will register a loud protest. Investigators for Dingell's Energy and Commerce subcommittee on oversight and investigations are examining the proposal to reduce on-site inspections.
Yockey has not yet been offered the job as permanent acquisition chief, but sources tell us he is the likely nominee. If so, he might be forced to answer some tough questions when the Senate holds his confirmation hearing.
The senators could rehash Yockey's involvement in a 1969 contracting controversy. At the time he was working for a firm building the Minuteman Missile guidance system. When the contractor was nailed for overbilling and shoddy work, then-Sen. William Proxmire (D-Wis.) called for a Justice Department investigation into possible conflict of interest by Yockey, a retired Air Force officer, and four other retired officers. The Justice Department cleared the five men.
Now Yockey has spun back through the revolving door. One top Pentagon source told us that Yockey's effort to curtail contract oversight is the "latest manifestation of the look-the-other-way management."