Air Force acquisition chief won support of ex-colleagues before sentencing

Former Air Force procurement executive Darleen Druyun, who was sentenced to prison earlier this month for violating conflict of interest laws, was praised by former government colleagues for innovative weapons management under deals she now admits favored Boeing, according to court documents.

The glowing reviews came in letters Druyun's former colleagues sent to her attorney that were forwarded to a U.S. District Court in Alexandria, Va., as part of her effort to seek leniency in sentencing. In a surprise announcement at the sentencing, Druyun admitted to favoring Boeing in contract negotiations dating back to 2000, when she was serving as the Air Force's principal deputy assistant secretary for acquisition.

Air Force officials have asked the Pentagon's inspector general to review all the Boeing contracts that Druyun oversaw from 2000 until she left her position in December 2002. Contractors who lost out to Boeing on lucrative deals are now weighing lawsuits and contract protests. And Congress has barred the Air Force from leasing tanker aircraft from Boeing under a deal negotiated by Druyun.

The letters from colleagues underscore how well regarded Druyun was in the Air Force and how surprising her deceit was to those both inside and outside government who worked with her during her more than 30-year federal career.

All the letters are dated before late July, when Druyun failed a polygraph exam and admitted to favoring Boeing. Previously, Druyun and her backers claimed she only had technically violated the law by negotiating a $250,000-a-year job and a $50,000 signing bonus with the nation's second-biggest defense contractor, and had never favored the firm in contract talks.

Federal Judge T.S. Ellis cited Druyun's support from former colleagues before her sentencing on Oct. 1. Ellis called the violation a "stain" on what otherwise would have been considered "unblemished service."

Ellis could have sentenced Druyun to 16 months and could have fined her as much as $30,000. Instead, he opted for a nine-month sentence, seven months of community confinement at home or in a halfway house, and a $5,000 fine. He cited the letters as a factor in giving her the lesser sentence.

The judge said he was particularly impressed with a letter from retired Air Force Lt. Gen. Larry Skantze, a former top acquisition officer who praised Druyun's "standards of integrity, fairness and professionalism."

Skantze noted that he worked with Druyun on renegotiating NATO's Airborne Warning and Control System contract with Boeing in 2002 after the program faced cost and schedule problems. "We forced Boeing to backtrack, accept part of the financial loss and restructure the program," he wrote in February.

But Druyun conceded in court that she approved a $100 million payment to Boeing as part of those negotiations, even though she thought a lower amount was appropriate, because her daughter and son-in-law were working for the company and she was in job negotiations. The Air Force is now renegotiating the contract.

In an interview with Government Executive, Skantze declined to comment on his letter other than to say, "That's all behind us now as far as I'm concerned."

Former Air Force Secretary Shelia Widnall, who held the service's top post from 1993 to 1997, praised Druyun's "integrity and selflessness" in a letter written in March. She cited Druyun's work in righting the Air Force's troubled C-17 cargo aircraft program, which had been plagued by delays and cost overruns. The C-17 is manufactured by Boeing.

Widnall did not return e-mail messages or a telephone call seeking comment.

Retired Air Force Col. Thomas Mahler, a former director of contracting for the C-17, wrote that the Pentagon was close to canceling the program when Druyun turned it around. "We were able to cut the cost of that program by billions of dollars and turn it into a heralded success story," Mahler said.

Druyun admitted in court that she later favored Boeing in negotiating a $412 million settlement concerning a clause in the C-17 contract. She said she was influenced by her son-in-law's ongoing job negotiations with Boeing when she agreed to the settlement.

Retired Air Force Col. Stephen Busch, a special assistant to Druyun from 1996 to 1999, cited her "expertise, commitment to the Air Force, and adherence to acquisition rules and procedures" for various programs, among them the C-130J aircraft procurement.

Druyun admitted that she favored Boeing in a $4 billion contract award in 2001 to upgrade avionics on C-130 aircraft. She said she believed she was indebted to the company for employing her future son-in-law and daughter.

Lockheed Martin has said it is considering filing a contract protest as the result of Druyun's admission. The company had built the C-130 aircraft since the 1950s, and industry observers were surprised to see Lockheed lose the modernization contract to Boeing.

Other notable Druyun backers writing in her defense included Lt. Gen. Michael Hough, deputy commandant of the Marine Corps for aviation.

Hough, who worked closely with Druyun for about two and a half years in the late 1990s when he managed the Joint Strike Fighter program, wrote that he was consistently impressed with her "poise, demeanor and uncompromising ethical standards." In 2001, Lockheed Martin beat out Boeing for the $200 billion contract to build the fighter.

Hough says he stands by his comments, and noted that the contract did not generate any bid protests. After the sentencing, he said, "I was stunned along with everyone else who knew her. You were led to believe she was such a Puritan when it came to following the rules."

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