With top Air Force slots vacant, Pentagon takes over procurement programs

Action is "not a punitive one," says Defense undersecretary.

With vacancies in several top Air Force positions, the Defense Department announced this week that it would take over management of nearly two dozen of the service's largest procurement programs.

"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," Michael Wynne, undersecretary of Defense for acquisition, technology and logistics, said earlier this week.

The programs are valued at about $200 billion and include the $59 billion C-17 cargo aircraft program and the $6.2 billion C-13OJ cargo aircraft program. The service's top acquisition programs, the Joint Strike Fighter and the F-22 fighter aircraft, already are managed by the Pentagon.

Wynne, who will oversee the programs, did not set a timeline for when the Air Force would resume managing them. He asked the Air Force to provide a list of significant decisions and milestones for each program that will occur over the next six months.

While the Pentagon stressed the action was not punitive, Air Force procurement programs have come under intense scrutiny in recent months after former Air Force official Darleen Druyun admitted to favoring Boeing in contract negotiations in exchange for a high-paying job with the contractor. Both former Air Force Secretary James Roche and former Air Force acquisition chief Marvin Sambur resigned in January because of the controversy.

Sambur had warned the scandal created a "leadership vacuum" in the service.

Acting Air Force Secretary Peter Teets, who also served as undersecretary, filled in on an emergency basis, but left the service at the end of March.

Michael Dominguez, the assistant secretary of the Air Force for manpower and reserve affairs, has been named acting Air Force secretary. He's a former member of the Senior Executive Service who's worked for the Navy and the Pentagon's Program and Analysis Office.

The White House has yet to nominate anyone for the job. Navy Secretary Gordon England had been considered a front-runner, but now is seen as a likely nominee to replace Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz, who recently was appointed to head the World Bank.

Meanwhile, Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. John Jumper is expected to retire in the fall and several other general officer assignments have been held up in the Congress by Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., as the result of the Boeing scandal.

The most high profile casualty was Air Force Material Command Chief Gen. Gregory S. Martin, who was seen as possible successor to Jumper. He withdrew his nomination to head the military's Pacific Command after McCain raised concerns over how well Martin supervised Druyun when both worked at the Pentagon.

The Air Force has been meeting with McCain in recent weeks to resolve his concerns and lift his holds on various nominees.