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By Andrea Shalal-Esa
WASHINGTON, April 17 Air Force Secretary
Michael Wynne disciplined a top Pentagon official and four
others involved with a $50 million Thunderbirds air show
contract after an investigation showed the deal was "tainted
with improper influence," the service said on Thursday.
The Thunderbirds act as goodwill ambassadors for the Air
Force, performing precise aerial maneuvers at U.S. shows.
Wynne, struggling to rebuild the Air Force's image after a
major procurement scandal in 2004, took unspecified
administrative action against Maj. Gen. Stephen Goldfein, vice
director of the Pentagon's Joint Staff since February 2007.
An Air Force spokesman declined to say how Goldfein was
disciplined, saying punishment could range from a verbal
reprimand to a formal letter of admonishment. The four airmen
in addition to Goldfein were at the rank of colonel or below.
Goldfein led the Air Warfare Center at Nellis Air Force
Base when the Thunderbirds contract was awarded to Strategic
Message Solutions, a Pennsylvania company. He declined
Wynne's action came after an investigation by the Defense
Department's inspector general found the contract was "tainted
with improper influence, irregular contracting practices and
preferential treatment for the winning company."
The report was another setback for the Air Force, which has
sought to become more transparent since a huge aircraft
procurement scandal several years ago. The scandal prompted the
resignation of Wynne's predecessor, James Roche.
Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Michael Moseley had also been
linked to the Thunderbirds deal in news reports but an Air
Force spokesman said the Pentagon investigation did not find
any wrongdoing by the service's top uniformed officer.
The Air Force canceled the $50 million contract to help
publicize the work of the Thunderbirds after the losing bidder,
Arizona-based Standing Room Only, filed a formal protest.
Standing Room Only argued its bid cost half that of rival
Strategic Message Solutions, but the latter won because of its
connections to high-ranking officers. Strategic Message
Solutions later filed a lawsuit demanding the contract be
restored, and said it had been promised the job by senior Air
Force members, including Moseley.
In a letter, Wynne and Moseley urged Air Force leaders to
avoid any favoritism in contract matters. "Our efforts to
restore public confidence and ensure openness and transparency
in the acquisition process are undermined when individuals are
given special access or treatment by senior leaders based on
prior professional or personal relationships," they wrote.
The Air Force is also defending itself against a protest
filed by Boeing Co (BA.N) after it lost a $35 billion contract
to Northrop Grumman Corp (NOC.N) and its European subcontractor
EADS EAD.PA. Boeing claims the Air Force improperly steered
that contract to Northrop.
(Reporting by Andrea Shalal-Esa; Editing by Peter Cooney)