WASHINGTON – In a highly unusual move, the Pentagon's top weapons buyer on Monday took away the Air Force's authority to oversee 21 major programs with a combined value of $200 billion.
The move, called temporary, was made because of a civilian leadership vacuum at the Air Force (search) following the departure last week of Peter Teets (search), who was under secretary of the Air Force as well as acting secretary. Teets had been filling in since James Roche resigned as secretary in January.
It also comes amid continuing controversy over the Air Force's handling of a multibillion dollar Boeing (search) aircraft lease deal that fell through last year and led to the conviction of former Air Force executive Darleen Druyun on charges of conspiring to violate conflict-of-interest rules.
Druyun admitted in court that she favored Boeing on deals worth billion of dollars because the company gave jobs to her daughter and son-in-law. Her admission led to a detailed Pentagon (search) review of her nearly 10-year tenure as a key weapons buyer for the Air Force and prompted rival defense companies to file protests over Boeing contracts awarded during that period.
The episode has taken a toll on the Air Force. Since Roche's departure, the White House has not nominated anyone to replace him as the Air Force secretary, a post that requires Senate confirmation. Some believe the current Navy secretary, Gordon England, will get the nomination.
There also has been no one nominated to replace Teets as the under secretary. What's more, the post of Air Force acquisition chief has been vacant since Marvin Sambur left in January.
With Teets gone, the most senior civilian in the Air Force is Michael L. Dominquez (search), who has served since August 2001 as assistant secretary of the Air Force for manpower and reserve affairs.
A 1975 West Point graduate and Army veteran, Dominquez's policy responsibilities have included force management and personnel, equal opportunity and diversity. His official biography indicates no experience in weapons buying.
In Monday's announcement, the Pentagon said it was giving decision-making authority for the 21 major Air Force weapons programs to Michael Wynne (search), the No. 2 Pentagon civilian in charge of weapons procurement. The No. 1 slot has not had a Senate-confirmed holder since May 2003; Wynne was nominated for the top spot but his nomination -- and others in the Air Force -- have been blocked by Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., as part of a long-running dispute over the Boeing lease deal.
The 21 programs fall into a category that normally allows key decisions to be made by the military service's own executives rather than rise to the level of the Department of Defense.
The Pentagon said it took the authority away from the Air Force "to ensure continuity of program oversight" -- suggesting that Air Force leadership is too thin to handle the big decisions.
The 21 programs include a $59.2 billion Boeing contract for C-17A Globemaster II (search) advanced cargo aircraft, and a $31.7 billion Boeing and Lockheed Martin (search) contract for the Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle (search). Decisions on moving these and other programs beyond certain designated milestones will be made by Wynne rather than by an Air Force acquisition official.
The Pentagon said it has set no timetable for restoring Air Force oversight, but it suggested it would take at least six months. Wynne asked the Air Force to give him a list of all significant milestone decisions expected for the 21 programs in the next six months.
"This action is not a punitive one, rather it is meant to assist the Air Force by overseeing and providing advice on important Air Force programs during a time of transition," Wynne said.
Among other programs affected are air-to-air missiles, B-2 bomber (search) radar modernization, C-5 cargo plane (search) improvement, propulsion replacement for the Minuteman (search) III intercontinental ballistic missile, and a $18 billion communications satellite program.