Pentagon inspector general interviewing ex-acquisitions chief

The Pentagon inspector general's office is interviewing a key player in the corrupt Air Force tanker lease deal after fielding heavy criticism from the Senate Armed Services Committee for failing to do so during its investigation.

Senate Armed Services Chairman John Warner, R-Va., who criticized the inspector general for not using his subpoena powers to get the interview, directly contacted former Pentagon acquisition chief Edward (Pete) Aldridge and urged him to sit down with investigators.

"He is quite willing and the IG is presumably in the process of getting it done as we speak," Warner told CongressDaily Thursday.

A source said one interview with the retired acquisition chief already has occurred in Florida.

During the tanker investigation, Aldridge ignored telephone calls and registered mail notices sent from the inspector general's office, Inspector General Joseph Schmitz said during a hearing on the issue earlier this month.

Aldridge is one of a handful of top Pentagon officials considered by the inspector general to be central to the overpriced, $23.5 billion lease deal, which has resulted in the resignation of two Air Force leaders and the incarceration of two senior Boeing executives.

The 256-page tanker investigation report, released earlier this month, names Aldridge as one of the "primary decision makers" in the Defense Department who allowed the proposed deal to move forward.

Aldridge signed off on the lease as one of his last acts in office in May 2003, without the customary review by the Defense Acquisition Board and before the Pentagon's leasing review panel concluded its own study, according to the IG report. The leasing panel ultimately recommended buying -- not leasing -- the tankers.

Aldridge also justified the more expensive lease option, stating that the Air Force urgently needed to replace its aging fleet of KC-135 tankers, and could get the airframes faster through a lease deal than a traditional procurement. Inspectors concluded that the need had been overstated, according to the report.

"This is an enormous case," Warner told Schmitz at the hearing this month. "It has enormous ramifications throughout the whole procurement process, impact on the military, and I think you should have utilized the subpoena."

The lack of any interviews with Aldridge became central to public discussions on the report and drew quick criticism not only from Warner, but also Armed Services ranking member Carl Levin, D-Mich., and Airland Subcommittee Chairman John McCain, R-Ariz.

At one point during the hearing, McCain urged Warner to subpoena Aldridge to testify before the committee, but the chairman disagreed, stating he would prefer to first invite him to appear voluntarily.

McCain, the driving force in the Senate behind the tanker investigation, is expected to hold an Airland Subcommittee hearing on the issue, sources have said.

Meanwhile, McCain and other leaders on the committee also are attempting to resolve another lingering issue clouding the IG investigation: the hefty portion of heavily redacted material, essentially shielding Bush administration officials, members of Congress and others from public blame.

McCain said Thursday that he is discussing with Warner and Levin how to "find a way" to get the information, much of which is closed even to lawmakers and staffers with security clearance.

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