Watchdog group seeking Pentagon probe of Shanahan’s alleged Boeing bias

Watchdog group seeking Pentagon probe of Shanahan’s alleged Boeing bias

Published
Acting Secretary of Defense Patrick Shanahan waits for the arrival of the Qatar Minister of State for Defense Affairs Khalid bin Mohammad Al Attiyah for a meeting at the Pentagon on Wednesday. (Army Sgt. Amber I. Smith/DoD)

WASHINGTON — A Washington legal watchdog group has asked the Pentagon’s Inspector General to probe Acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan’s selection of weapons systems to see if he improperly boosted those made by Boeing.

Shanahan, who became acting defense secretary on Jan. 1, had worked at at Boeing for more than 30 years before becoming deputy secretary of defense in July 2017 under former Defense Secretary James Mattis.

Shanahan had faced questions about his preference for Boeing products since coming to the Pentagon, including new questions this week with the release of the fiscal 2020 budget. That budget shows the Air Force would be on track to buy up to 80 F-15X Boeing-made fighters in the next five years, planes the Air Force has publicly said it does not need nor want.

“The Standards of Conduct…. prohibit Mr. Shanahan from using his office for private gain, including by endorsing Boeing products,” the group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) said Wednesday in its letter to the Glenn Fine, the acting Pentagon inspector general.

“The Standards of Conduct also prohibit Mr. Shanahan from participating in particular matters involving Boeing as a party when doing so would create the appearance of a lack of impartiality, and the Ethics Pledge he signed similarly prohibits him from participating in those matters. Through his conduct and comments, Acting Secretary Shanahan may have violated these ethics rules,” the CREW letter said.

Pentagon officials said Shanahan has complied with his ethics
agreement at all time” and will continue to do so.

“This agreement mandates that all matters related to the Boeing Company are routed to another Department of Defense official to ensure that there is no potential for a conflict of
interest on any issue pertaining to Boeing,” Charles Summers, the acting Pentagon spokesperson, said in an email to TMN. “Acting Secretary Shanahan remains focused on increasing lethality across the military and aligning the Department along the National Defense Strategy.”

Shanahan signed a letter on June 5, 2017, pledging, in part the “I will not participate personally and substantially in any particular matter involving specific parties in which I know the Boeing Company is a party or represents a party, unless I am first authorized to participate, pursuant to 5 C.F.R. § 2635.50 in a writing that describes the circumstances necessitating the authorization.”

Among the areas of concern outlined in the letter are use of public office for private gain, appearance of lack of impartiality from business relationship, and violation of ethics pledge, CREW said in its letter.

“Mr. Shanahan appears to have participated in the decision to include more than $1 billion in federal funds in the 2020 budget cycle for the F-15X fighter aircraft,” the letter stated.

In February, Defense News reported that Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson said that the “budget proposal that we initially submitted did not include additional fourth-generation aircraft” — a reference to the F-15X fighter.

Last week Wilson announced her resignation with the intent to take a position in academia.

In January, in his first press conference after becoming acting defense secretary, Shanahan dismissed talk of his being biased toward Boeing as “noise” and unfounded.

“I am biased towards performance,” Shanahan said then. “I am biased towards giving the taxpayer their money’s worth. The F-35, unequivocally I can say, has a lot of opportunity for more performance.”

The F-35 is being produced by Lockheed Martin. Shanahan was responding then to published reports in Politico that had him disparaging Lockheed as a company that “doesn’t know how to run a program,” referring to the F-35. “If it had gone to Boeing, it would be done much better,” Shanahan reportedly said, according to Politico.

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