Back in May 2006, POGO posted a blog entry about the Air Force improperly steering a $50 million contract to produce large-scale video shows during Thunderbirds Air Demonstration Squadron performances to a company connected to senior Air Force officers. POGO noted that the Department of Defense Inspector General and FBI were investigating the contract, which the Air Force voluntarily terminated after a competing bidder filed a protest.
Almost two years later, the DoD IG has finally released its findings in a redacted 251-page report. The report concludes that Air Force Maj. Gen. Stephen M. Goldfein and others went to improper lengths to steer the contract to Strategic Message Solutions (SMS), an inexperienced and ill-equipped company that tendered a bid twice as expensive as a competing vendor's. SMS also had close contacts with senior Air Force officers and members of the Thunderbirds. The report highlights an Air Force contracting process fraught with improper influence, irregular procedures, glaring conflicts of interest, and an award decision that "did not represent the best value for the Air Force." As it happened, the Thunderbirds fiasco occurred shortly after another major procurement scandal that sent Air Force acquisition chief Darleen Druyun to prison.
The U.S. Attorney's Office in Nevada, home of Nellis Air Force Base and the Thunderbirds, declined to prosecute the case. Goldfein, who is now Vice Director of the Pentagon's Joint Staff, and four other officers not named in the report received administrative punishments.
There has been talk around Washington that IGs, Congress, the GAO, and watchdogs have demoralized government employees and are causing them to leave government service. It's funny that POGO hears from many government employees who support our efforts, who state that their frustration results from government scandals rather than the reporting of them, and who have tried to fix the system from within only to be labeled as troublemakers and the enemy (where is Bunny Greenhouse now?). Taxpayers are also demoralized and many see the federal government transforming into nothing more than a corporate machine that protects special interests rather than the public's interest. The award of the Thunderbirds contract highlights many problems--actual and apparent conflicts of interest, concerns with the revolving door, improper influence in contracting, flawed deals, and wasted money. I would love to see how anyone can blame the DoD IG for conducting its investigation and exposing a deal that wasn't benefiting taxpayers.
-- Neil Gordon and Scott Amey