For the US Air Force, the Impact Spreads

Feb. 1, 2005

Marvin R. Sambur was assistant secretary of the Air Force for acquisition from 2001 until last month and was USAF’s top civilian official for weapons research and procurement. On Jan. 12, Sambur met with the Defense Writers Group in Washington, D.C. He discussed the ill-fated Air Force tanker lease proposal, the improper actions of former USAF acquisition official Darleen A. Druyun, the criticism of Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), and the problems affecting USAF promotions and confirmations. What follows are excerpts.

The Great Scandal Myth

“This tanker deal has been labeled as a great scandal for the Air Force. From my point of view, I don’t understand why. … I understand [the criminality of] Darleen Druyun, but I don’t think that people understand that Darleen Druyun … left the Air Force one year before we brought forth to Congress the final proposal [for the tanker lease]. When she finished her negotiation, the price was in the $146 [million per airplane] range, with no [safeguards]. We then took that negotiation and basically started from scratch, lowered the price considerably, [and added safeguards to the program].”

McCain’s Motives

“I don’t want to speculate on [Senator] McCain’s motives [for attacking the Air Force over the tanker deal]. … He should look at the data and look at our impact in this thing, and look at the fact that, the tanker thing—where he’s talking about billions of dollars being lost to the government—all aspects of Darleen Druyun’s influence … were taken away before we brought the final proposal to Congress. And he’s overlooking the fact that this was vetted by an OSD [Office of the Secretary of Defense] leasing panel for a year. The final decision was not made by the Air Force, to go forward. It was made by OSD.”

Lack of Dialogue

“McCain would never talk to us. I have no idea to this day why. I walk out of this office completely baffled as to why we are in the doghouse. I’m completely baffled, because, every time an IG report comes out, and we’re cleared, he goes back and asks for another IG report.”

Effect on the Air Force

“What I’m concerned about are the ramifications [of the hold on promotions and confirmations] with respect to the Air Force—what it means in terms of people and leadership. They [Senate opponents] are criticizing [us] for lack of leadership, and yet they are making the policies so that no one can get confirmed. … Who is going to be taking over those places?”

The “Lack of Leadership” Charge

“If you look at what we’re being accused of, it’s lack of leadership, and what’s happening right now is, because of the people leaving and because new ones are unable to be confirmed, we have a lack of leadership, by the vacuums that we have.”

Critical Vacancies

“We can’t have [Lt. Gen. Ronald E. Keys] promoted to take [Air Combat Command]. There’s a vacuum at ACC. There’s a vacuum in several positions with two-star generals, three-star generals. Nobody’s getting confirmed. The civilian leadership—the next person who takes my job, what type of grilling will he get? Or the [Secretary of the Air Force]? The next person will be under the mandate, ‘You clean up everything within the Air Force,’ before he gets confirmed. … I mean, what type of morale does that leave you?”

Lining Up To Leave

“Who wants to be in acquisition? The good people are already lining up to leave, and anybody who wants to come in will be thinking, ‘My God, why would I ever come into this thing?’ ”

No Exit

“There’s no way out of this until everybody [in the current Air Force leadership] leaves, and then you start from scratch here.”

Heads Rolled

“My head rolled, and Secretary [James G.] Roche’s head rolled. We did it [voluntarily resigned] because we thought that that would be a mechanism to break this ‘accountability’ argument [by Senate critics of the tanker deal].”

Mass Conspiracy

“Right now, one of the things that is so puzzling to me, on the tanker, is the belief that everyone within the Air Force is in a mass conspiracy to help Boeing. I mean, that’s the implication here—that we have all of the generals, everybody, has this mass conspiracy, that all of us are doing this to help Boeing. Does that makes sense?”


“It [the tanker deal] was vetted by OSD for a year, and the final decision was not made by the Air Force. It was made by OSD in collaboration with OMB [the White House’s Office of Management and Budget]. … So I’m kind of confused as to why everyone thinks that the Air Force is the culprit here, why the Air Force is tarnished.”

The Will of Congress

“We were responding to a law from Congress [passed in late 2001]. The law said, ‘Look at a lease.’ The law said, ‘Look at a Boeing 767.’ The law didn’t say ‘competition.’ The law didn’t say, ‘Buy it.’ It said ‘lease.’ It said, ‘Boeing.’ The Air Force was supposed to bring forward a proposal, which we did.”

Demands for Internal E-Mails

“E-mails are a dialogue within OSD. If you are worried about your e-mail, then you should have a lawyer over your shoulder every time you write an e-mail. That sets a new precedent, right now. When people were writing their e-mails, they thought they were having a dialogue, they were having discussions, they were having debates.”

Druyun Unsupervised

“She had no oversight because there was nobody confirmed [in a supervisory position] for 50 percent of the time [she was in office]. For five of the 10 years she was there, she had no boss. … I was the last secretary of acquisition that she had. She had several before me. … Do you happen to know who her boss was before me, who was involved with some of this stuff? Why is his name never mentioned?”

Stripping Her of Duties

“I was only there for a matter of two months before I recognized that she [Druyun] had too much power. She did not make a single source-selection decision while I was there. The PEOs—the program executive officers—were taken away from her. The PEOs reported to me within two months, not to her. I had taken away all of her head contract authority. She was not allowed to make any more contract decisions.”

Druyun’s Reputation

“At that time, she had this sterling reputation as being the greatest negotiator ever. Everyone in the Air Force thought that she was ‘the Dragon Lady’ who would squeeze her mother if she needed to. So my reaction, when I looked at [the tanker deal that she negotiated], was, ‘Maybe at the end she was trying to leave here and didn’t do such a great job.’ … You’ve got to be very paranoid to think that everybody who’s working for you is doing something illegal. … Sometimes people just do bad jobs.”