Aspin fires general over plane contract


WASHINGTON -- An Air Force general was fired and two other generals and a top civilian official were disciplined yesterday for nearly $450 million in improper payments to the contractor for the C-17 cargo plane, McDonnell Douglas Corp.

The actions followed a Pentagon inspector general's report alleging that the nation's largest defense contractor was paid for C-17 work not done, and that some transactions between the company and the government were possibly illegal.

Defense Secretary Les Aspin removed Maj. Gen. Michael

Butchko Jr. as commander of the Air Force Development Test Center at Eglin Air Force Base in Florida as punishment for poor management of the contract for the plane.

General Butchko later said he would retire early, effective June 1. "I walk away with full integrity," he said.

Barred from further work in Pentagon weapons acquisition programs were:

* Lt. Gen. Edward Barry Jr., former C-17 program executive officerand now commander of the Space and Missile Systems Center in Los Angeles.

* Brig. Gen. John Nauseef, former deputy chief of staff at Air Force Systems Command and currently deputy chief of staff at the Air Force Materiel Command in Dayton, Ohio.

* A. Allen Hixenbaugh, former C-17 program deputy director for contracting and now special assistant to the director of contracting at the Aeronautical Systems Center, also in Dayton.

Mr. Aspin's action comes amid widespread congressional criticism that the C-17, built in Long Beach, Calif., is too costly, behind schedule and technically flawed.

Some prominent lawmakers have suggested suspending the program, and a few have called for its cancellation.

The Clinton administration has slowed spending on the program, which eventually could cost $35 billion to $40 billion for 120 planes.

Mr. Aspin, who has not disguised his frustrations with the program, scolded the Air Force yesterday for failing to move quickly to attack "significant program difficulties."

The secretary's action followed the Pentagon inspector general's findings that the Air Force had improperly channeled almost $450 million to McDonnell Douglas in late 1990, when the company was in financial trouble.

Mr. Aspin said that while he agreed with the Air Force that there was "no basis to believe that criminal conduct was involved in the management of the program," actions were taken in 1990 that were beyond "the range of normal management discretion."

A summary of the Air Force's defense of its actions was released with Mr. Aspin's decision.

The service concluded that while "certain management decisions were questionable," there was no basis for disciplinary action.

"I disagree with this judgment," Mr. Aspin responded.

"Those who oversee the spending of billions of dollars to provide weapons for our defense have to perform to the highest standard," he said in a written statement, "and they must be held accountable for that performance. I no longer have confidence that these individuals will perform to that standard."

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