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The Godmother of Boeing Makes a Soft Landing

Darleen Druyun proudly calls herself the Godmother of the C-17, the unwieldy transport plane that will be doing much of the heavy lifting during the roll up to Bush’s war on Iraq. The plane’s performance has gotten mixed reviews, but as chief acquisitions officer at the Air Force Druyun pushed relentlessly to have more of those cargo planes bought and at a premium price. As a kicker, Druyun drafted a quaint provision that would have inoculated the C-17 contract from any pesky government oversight over the likely runaway costs of the program. By the way, the C-17 is made by Boeing.

Druyun’s unceasing efforts at the Pentagon to push this sweetheart deal on behalf of Boeing eventually prompted an internal investigation by the Defense Department’s Inspector General and even aroused a rare public rebuke from Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld.

Druyun recently left the Pentagon, but now she has made a soft landing at the very company she had labored for so zealously in public office: Boeing.

In a January 3 company press release, Boeing executives gloated that Druyun will head up the company’s missile defense division headquartered in Washington, DC. This is one of the more plum positions in town. Boeing is the prime contractor for what the Pentagon calls the Ground-based Midcourse Defense Segment and serves as the lead contractor for the Missile Defense National Team’s Systems Engineering and Integration program. These contracts have already generated billions in revenues for Boeing, but much more is on the way. The company expects to do a brisk business now that Bush has officially jettisoned the ABM Treaty and given the greenlight for the rapid deployment of the latest version of the Star Wars scheme. Druyun’s duties at Boeing will also include hawking the Airborne Laser program and the Patriot anti-missile system, which seems likely to get another big boost in sales to Israel and Kuwait with the upcoming war on Iraq.

“Darleen Druyun helped drive acquisition reform within the Air Force,” said James Evatt, Boeing’s senior vice-president for its Defense programs. “Her ‘Lightning Bolt’ initiatives, which jump-started the reform process. Her personal passion and drive are well known within the defense industry, and we expect her to be a key player in our future success.”

Pentagon watchdogs have a somewhat different recollection of Druyun’s tenure at the Air Force. They say that the Godmother’s initiatives favored the defense contractors, while looting the treasury and putting Air Force pilots in relatively untested and even unsafe planes. The C-17 affair is perhaps the most brazen example of her labors on behalf of the weapons lobby.

In 1990, Congress approved an Air Force plan to buy 120 C-17s from Boeing for $230 million apiece. That contract runs out later this year. In the fall of 2000, the Air Force said it wanted another 60 planes. But Boeing wanted to sell them many more. And they engaged in a bit of blackmail to get their way. Boeing officials claimed that they couldn’t afford to keep the C- 17 in production unless they built a minimum of 15 planes each year. Yet, the even the Air Force admitted it didn’t need that many planes. And the General Accounting Office contends that the Air Force actually only requires about 100 heavy transport planes, 20 fewer than it has already got. With other big ticket items like the F-22 and the Joint Strike Force Fighter on the Air Force’s wish list, the C-17 seemed unlikely to survive congressional scrutiny.

So a plan was hatched to make the new fleet of planes quasi-private. Under this scenario, some of the C-17s would essentially be rented out to private haulers, who would then be in a position to receive financial kickbacks for using the aircraft. According to Pentagon sources, the idea to reclassify the C-17 contract from a military to a commercial project originated with Boeing. It’s not hard to figure out what office they went to with the idea. This scheme contained another nifty prize for Boeing. By reclassifying the deal as a commercial operation, it alleviated many of the detailed reporting requirements that go along with defense contracts.

Druyun seized on the idea and wrapped the program in the then ripe rhetoric of the Clinton/Gore reinventing government scheme. “This program is very appealing to all parties involved: the Air Force, the commercial operators, the manufacturers and the American taxpayer,” Druyun boasted in December of 2000. In a sign of things to come, this quote appeared in a Boeing press release.

Druyun also raved that the new contract would enable Boeing to employ “streamlined processes” in the production of the plane–never a welcome sign when it comes to building military aircraft, at least from the pilot’s point of view.

All this prompted the Pentagon’s chief testing official to object the plan as a potentially hazardous operation. “Policies and procedures flowing from the push toward commercial acquisition are leading the C-17 down a risky path,” wrote Philip Coyle, then director of the Defense Department’s Operational Test and Evaluation Division. “A lack of fiscal, technical, and testing realism may be creating fleets that cannot meet effectiveness, sustainability, or interoperability requirements.”

After the scheme was exposed by the Project on Government Oversight and by a subsequent report in CounterPunch, the C-17 plan fell apart. When the dust finally settled, Druyun cashed in her chips with Boeing. Now she’s stalking bigger game: missile defense, a multi-billion dollar bonanza for defense contractors, with Boeing at the head of the trough.

“Ms. Druyun is now officially an employee of the company whose interests she so ardently championed while she was supposedly representing the interests of the taxpayers,” says Danielle Brian, executive director of the Project on Government Oversight. “This is one of the most egregious examples of the government revolving door in recent memory.”

Of course, plucking operatives from the halls of the Pentagon is nothing new for Boeing. Over the years, the company has festooned its corporate board and the halls of its lobby shop with a bevy of top brass.

Recently, Boeing’s board has boasted both former Defense Secretary William Perry and John M. Shalikashvili, the former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. In 2001, Boeing also hired Rudy de Leon, Clinton’s Deputy Secretary of Defense, to run its Washington office. Although De Leon is known as a proud hawk and a masterful dealmaker, his hiring may have been a rare misstep for Boeing, since congressional Republicans howled that the company should have picked one of their own from the Pentagon’s rolls.

But by adding the Godmother of the C-17 to the company’s DC hangar, the defense contractor seems to be well on the road toward making amends and, naturally, fattening Boeing’s bottom line courtesy of the federal treasury.

JEFFREY ST. CLAIR can be reached at: stclair@counterpunch.org

 

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Jeffrey St. Clair is editor of CounterPunch. His new book is Bernie and the Sandernistas: Field Notes From a Failed Revolution. He can be reached at: sitka@comcast.net or on Twitter  @JSCCounterPunch

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