Officials contrite over Boeing deal


WASHINGTON - Contrite senior defense officials offered apologies and suggested procurement reforms to a Senate committee yesterday after a new report said the Pentagon violated federal procedures in pursuing a $23.5 billion contract to lease aerial refueling tankers from Boeing Co.

The report by the Pentagon's inspector general could lead to "the complete restructuring in the way the department accomplishes acquisition for all of its goods and services," Deputy Defense Secretary Gordon England told a skeptical Armed Services Committee.

The report adds names and detail to facts about the controversial tanker lease, which Congress abandoned last year and which has led to the convictions of two Boeing executives.

But some Senate Democrats complained that parts of the report were heavily blacked out, especially when it mentioned e-mails and statements by top White House officials, who helped push the tanker deal past other administration and Pentagon skeptics in May 2003.

"Critical gaps in this report have placed a cloud over it, indeed, over the inspector general's office," Sen. Carl Levin of Michigan, the committee's ranking Democrat, told Pentagon Inspector General Joseph Schmitz. "In my view, the report fails to discuss critical issues, omits critical material and redacts key portions of the report in a manner that raises serious questions."

Schmitz said he blacked out 45 references to the Bush administration in his report under an agreement with White House lawyers. His investigators spoke with 88 people, he said, but did not interview "White House officials, members of Congress, or officials of the Boeing Co., because the review" was limited to the Pentagon.

White House spokesman Scott McClellan said that Schmitz's staff had access to administration communications, but that they were blacked out in the final report because Schmitz does not have jurisdiction over the White House.

"They only have jurisdiction over their particular agency," McClellan said. "We worked to help facilitate the investigation by the inspector general, but this is a jurisdictional matter."

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