WASHINGTON — The Pentagon’s inspector general has begun an open-ended examination of any improper actions by Acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan on behalf of his former employer, Boeing.
The investigation, announced Wednesday night, comes one week after a Washington, D.C., watchdog organization requested the probe, with a primary focus on weapons systems selections that Shanahan may have nudged towards Boeing.
Asked last week if he supported such an investigation, during his appearance before the Senate Armed Services Committee, Shanahan said, “Yes, I do.”
Shanahan, who became acting defense secretary on Jan. 1, had worked at Boeing for more than 30 years before becoming deputy secretary of defense in July 2017 under former Defense Secretary James Mattis.
Shanahan has faced questions about his preference for Boeing products since coming to the Pentagon, including new questions that came 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.
Among the areas of concern the group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) raised in its letter to the IG requesting the probe of Shanahan are: “use of public office for private gain,” “appearance of lack of impartiality from business relationship,” and violation of an ethics pledge required for all presidential appointees.
“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 nine-page letter to acting Inspector General Glenn Fine said.
Published reports in Politico had Shanahan disparaging rival company 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.
A spokesperson for Shanahan defended him. “Acting Secretary Shanahan has at all times remained committed to upholding his ethics agreement,” Lt. Col. Joseph Buccino said Wednesday night in a statement to the media. “This agreement ensures any matters pertaining to Boeing are handled by appropriate officials within the Pentagon to eliminate any perceived or actual conflict of interest issue with Boeing.”
The Pentagon IG will focus on those two areas, it said in a statement — trashing the competition and boosting Boeing.
“In his recent Senate Armed Services Committee testimony, Acting Secretary Shanahan stated that he supported an investigation into these allegations,” Dwrena Allen, a spokesperson for the Pentagon IG, said in a statement. “We have informed him that we have initiated this investigation.”