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Air Force Contract Questioned

April 06, 2006|Walter F. Roche Jr. | Times Staff Writer

WASHINGTON — Rep. Henry A. Waxman (D-Los Angeles) asked the Pentagon on Wednesday to release details of a $47-million Air Force contract that an inspector general's report has found was awarded improperly.

In a letter to Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, Waxman cited the March 3 report, which says the no-bid contract to a subsidiary of Engineered Support Systems Inc., or ESSI, came as a result of intervention by Darlene A. Druyun.

A former Air Force procurement official, Druyun pleaded guilty in 2004 to improperly favoring another contractor and served a nine-month prison sentence.

Waxman noted in his letter that President Bush's uncle, William H.T. Bush, was an ESSI shareholder when the vehicle maintenance contract was awarded.

The California lawmaker, who first asked for information on the contract more than a year ago, said the recent Defense Department inspector general's report raised "a significant unanswered question: Why did Darlene Druyun improperly influence the procurement process to assist ESSI?"

As The Times has reported, William Bush -- known in the family as Uncle Bucky -- recently received cash and stock valued at $2.7 million from the sale of the St. Louis company to DRS Technologies of New Jersey.

Waxman noted that Bush also cashed in ESSI stock options last year and collected $450,000.

The president's uncle has said he played no role in ESSI's efforts to get military contracts. He served on the ESSI board for more than six years.

According to the inspector general's report, Druyun's intervention assured that ESSI got the contract to provide ongoing maintenance and repair services on a device called a Tunner -- used to load and unload large military and commercial aircraft -- despite the fact that the same work could have been performed by the Marine Corps for $19.7 million less.

Giving ESSI the contract also meant the Air Force would incur an additional $641,000 in transportation costs, Waxman said.

The inspector general cited a Druyun memo in which she "implied that the contractor had performed successfully and was deserving of the long-term logistics support contract. We found no documents or written agreements to support this commitment," the report says.

Druyun, the auditors concluded, issued an order at a July 2001 meeting that in effect eliminated the Marine Corps from consideration.

"The Air Force needs to reconsider the award ... without Druyun's influence," the report says in urging that the contract be canceled.

Air Force officials said they would work with the Marine Corps "to explore the potential for partnering agreements" on future repair work.

Druyun, then a deputy assistant Air Force secretary in charge of purchasing, pleaded guilty to improperly favoring Boeing Co. in a multimillion-dollar procurement at the same time she was pursuing a job with the company, which employed her daughter.

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