Boeing e-mail hints at Druyun's help

Air Force negotiator later joined plane builder

December 12, 2003|By Susan Chandler | Susan Chandler,CHICAGO TRIBUNE

CHICAGO - Darleen Druyun, one of the Air Force's crack negotiators, portrayed herself in interviews as a hard-driving bargainer who put defense contractors' feet to the fire.

But internal Boeing e-mail messages paint Druyun as an advocate for Boeing Co. and its critical ally during the time she was negotiating a $26 billion deal to lease 100 Boeing 767 aerial refueling tankers.

In a June 2002 e-mail, Bob Gower, Boeing's vice president for tankers, wrote, "Meeting today on price was very good. Darleen spent most of the time bringing the [U.S. Air Force] price up to our number. We did not finalize the price because the USAF went to caucus on how to present the figures for the business case. It was a good day!"

Earlier that day, an e-mail from Andrew Ellis, Boeing's vice president of Washington state operations, described an effort by Druyun to keep off President Bush's budget the big liability the government would face if it terminated the tanker contract early.

"She may be running her own covert operation on this one," Ellis wrote, "so we probably don't want to discuss openly."

The e-mail messages, congressional watchdogs say, show that Druyun was on Boeing's team rather than fighting for U.S. taxpayers.

"This confirms the worst stereotypes of the military-industrial complex," said Lawrence Korb, a former Pentagon official who is a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress, a Washington think tank.

"The military and industry get together to generate requirements that may or may not be valid, and they award contracts in the best interest of the company as opposed to the country."

Druyun left her Air Force position and joined Boeing last January as deputy vice president and deputy general manager of Boeing's Missile Defense Systems division.

The staff of Arizona Republican Sen. John McCain, the tanker contract's most vocal critic, has had the e-mail messages in hand since summer, when Boeing voluntarily turned them over, but the communications are being reviewed again in a new light.

Boeing has said the handful of e-mail messages are being taken out of context. Druyun was fired by Boeing last month because she allegedly was fishing for a job offer from the company while she was negotiating the tanker deal.

Michael Sears, Boeing's chief financial officer, also was fired in late November for allegedly discussing a job with Druyun and then trying to hide his conduct. Sears has denied wrongdoing.

Such actions violate Boeing's internal policies and run afoul of the federal anti-bribery laws that prohibit a company from offering jobs to public officials while the officials are overseeing government business with the company. The law provides for civil fines and criminal punishments, including prison, for violators.

The Pentagon put a hold on the tanker contract last week, after Boeing Chief Executive Philip Condit also resigned. Condit said he was leaving to clear the air because a series of ethical scandals related to military contracts have damaged the company's reputation and cost it more than $1 billion in lost contracts.

It's clear that Boeing had other friends besides Druyun high up in the Air Force hierarchy.In a Boeing e-mail from March 2002, Ellis describes how the Air Force was coaching Boeing on how to counter negative publicity in the press.

William Bodie, assistant to Air Force Secretary James G. Roche, urged the company to "have our friends on the Hill, think tanks, etc., get more visible/vocal in countering the kinds of arguments in the Gannett piece this morning," Ellis wrote.

Ellis then says he told Roche's assistant, "It was being worked, and we were prepared to sustain a more visible, longer term, pro-tanker campaign. (It is clearly what he wants, especially if it helps drown out McCain and insulate/support the secretary.)"

The e-mail also says the Air Force had assured the company that "only Boeing can meet the requirements of the [fiscal year 2002] appropriations language."

Just days later in April 2002, another Ellis e-mail that went out would prove pivotal in the tanker deal's tangled course.

"Darleen told us several times to keep in mind that EADS' proposed price on green A330 was $5 million to $17 million cheaper than green 767," the e-mail said.

The European Aeronautic Defence and Space Co. is the European parent of Airbus S.A.S., Boeing's major rival in the commercial aviation business. "Green" refers to a basic aircraft model before it has been modified for refueling purposes.

EADS wasn't invited to bid on the tanker contract but volunteered that it could supply less expensive tankers that would save taxpayers billions of dollars.

It was the latter e-mail that prompted the Pentagon's inspector general to open an investigation of the tanker deal in September. Transferring proprietary price information from one bidder to another is not allowed under government procurement regulations.

The Chicago Tribune is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

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