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Published: Saturday, 4/17/2004

Wagging the dog

THE wheels of justice are grinding at an unusually satisfying pace in the case of an Air Force contract to lease 100 flying tankers at inflated prices as a make-work deal for Boeing Co.

Darleen Druyun, who pushed the contract through in her capacity as a Pentagon acquisition officer, has reportedly agreed to plead guilty to conspiracy charges. After her Defense Department tour, Ms. Druyun went to work for Boeing but was fired by the company when details of her conflict of interest in the one-sided pact became known. The contract, meanwhile, is on hold.

Unfortunately, the people most responsible for this $23 billion travesty won't be punished. They are the members of Congress who pursued the deal to create jobs in their districts, never mind $4 billion in extra cost to taxpayers.

The guilty parties include House Speaker Dennis Hastert, of Illinois, where Boeing has its headquarters, and Rep. Norm Dicks, of Washington state, where the company would build some of the planes.

The Pentagon's inspector general reported last week that the Air Force had failed to properly determine a fair price for the tankers and had improperly waived the government's right to audit the program.

Moreover, the inspector general concluded, the manner in which the lease was handled "places the (Defense) Department at a high risk of paying excessive prices and profits," and that ignoring military acquisition rules meant that the Boeing 767 aircraft "may not be operationally effective, suitable, and survivable."

The Air Force disagreed, contending that the strategy for acquiring the aircraft was "dictated by Congress and approved by the office of the Secretary of Defense." We guess that means that Donald Rumsfeld should be added to the list of guilty parties.

From the get-go, the Boeing contract was, in the words of one observer, a "tail wagging the dog scenario," designed more to keep aircraft assembly lines rolling than meet legitimate defense needs. Taxpayers should not be drafted to foot the bill.

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