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Top Air Force Acquisition Official Pushed Out Over Link To Northrop

Posted by Colin Clark on

Richard Lombardi

Richard Lombardi

WASHINGTON: The top Air Force acquisition civilian, Richard Lombardi, has been “removed” from office for failing to disclose his wife’s financial links to Northrop Grumman, winner of the Long Range Strike Bomber contract.

Lombardi’s wife had a Northrop Grumman retirement account. He came forward and told the Air Force he had failed to mention this in his annual disclosure form. Then he was moved to a job that had nothing to do with acquisition.

While Lombardi was not involved in the LRSB decision — that was handled by Pentagon acquisition head Frank Kendall and the former head of Air Force acquisition, Bill LaPlante — this is just one of those dispiriting stories that invokes far too many spirits of stupid, unethical and illegal acquisition actions by Air Force officials over the years.

Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James said at an Air Force Association breakfast this morning that she didn’t know if Lombardi’s removal would affect the Boeing-Lockheed Martin protest against the LRSB contract award. “I hope not, she said. Boeing, she said, would have to amend its protest to take Lombardi’s removal into account. The Government Accountability Office is expected to rule next week on the protest.

However, even one of the Pentagon’s most eagle-eyed skeptics, the Project on Government Oversight, did not put this in the top ranks of malfeasance.

“Even the appearance of a conflict of interest undermines the integrity of the Air Force’s decision making,” said Mandy Smithberger, director of POGO’s CDI Straus Military Reform Project. “That said, this is relatively small potatoes compared to the far bigger ethical lapses the Air Force turns a blind eye to, however. With the revolving door in full swing between senior Air Force officials and the contractors they do business with, this recent action does little to give us confidence anything real has changed.”

Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James was informed of the issue on Feb. 3. Lombardi was removed the next day and James referred the issue to the Defense Department’s Inspector General, Lt. Col. Chris Karns, Air Force spokesman, said in a statement. The Air Force told Congress about the problem and found a replacement before disclosing this to the public.

Air Force Undersecretary Lisa Disbrow was made service acquisition executive, meaning she has final decision authority on all acquisition matters.

Darlene Costello

Darlene Costello

In a bit of you-can’t-make-this-stuff-up, the person replacing Lombardi to run service acquisition day to day is burdened with a name that sounds the same as perhaps the most tarnished person in Air Force acquisition history, Darleen Druyun, who had Lombardi’s job and served nine months in prison in 2005 after admitting she had given Boeing preferential treatment for years before discussing a job with the company. The new person is Darlene Costello, principal deputy assistant secretary for acquisition in Kendall’s shop. Thank goodness it’s spelled differently.

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