Thursday, May 15, 2008

A Brother for the Defense

There's an interesting letter to the editor in this week's edition of Air Force Times. It was written by Brigadier General David Goldfein, who currently serves as Deputy Director of Programs in the Plans Directorate at Air Force Headquarters in Washington.

As you might have guessed, Dave Goldfein is the younger brother of Major General Stephen Goldfein, who was implicated in the "Thunder Vision" contracting scandal. Major General Goldfein received administrative punishment after DoD investigators determined that he helped steer a $50-million audio-visual contract to a firm that included his former boss, General Hal Hornburg, among its partners.

It's comes as no surprise that Brigadier General Goldfein's letter provides a spirited defense of his brother. A few excerpts:

When newspapers across the country grabbed the story and posted Maj. Gen. Stephen Goldfein’s picture all over the news [“Major general disciplined,” April 28], I, along with everyone who has ever served with this officer, was outraged. You see, not only is Maj. Gen. Goldfein the finest officer I have ever known, he is my brother.

[snip]

While readers will think this is just a brother standing up for his sibling, it is really an attempt to allow you to get to know my brother like I do, and perhaps question whether the price he has paid, both personally and professionally, is appropriate given the alleged offense.

First, my brother Steve is a true patriot who embodies the core values of our Air Force: integrity first, service before self, excellence in all we do. From his days as a wing commander at the Air Force Academy to his days commanding at squadron, group and wing levels, he has become well known for his quiet and steady demeanor. He is one of those guys you want to be near when things go south. I have never known him to lose his cool — with maybe one exception, on the golf course ... but it really was a bad shot.

Second, my brother is an honest man. In his 30-year career, I have never known him to do anything other than the right thing. While the recent press has certainly tarnished his reputation, those who know Maj. Gen. Steve Goldfein and have worked with him remain absolutely convinced that in the case of the Nellis contracting issue, he was doing what he has always done: the right thing in his heart for the Air Force and nation. There was no personal gain. There was no agenda. I seriously question whether there was any true influencing (as have others who were there in the room). Why? Because it would be completely out of sync with how he has handled himself and treated his subordinates over the past 30 years.

Dave Goldfein's willingness to stand up for his brother is commendable. Faced with family scandal, I've known other siblings (military and civilian) who made a mad dash for the tall grass. And, Brigadier General Goldfein's letter won't exactly endear him to senior Air Force leaders, suggesting that his brother has paid too high a price for the alleged offense.

For the record, I never served under either of the Goldfein brothers. Friends and former colleagues who have generally give them high marks; I've heard similar stories about Major General Goldfein's reputation for coolness in tough situations. There is little doubt that both are able officers who have served this country well over the past 30 years.

But Dave Goldfein's laudatory description of his brother must be squared against DoD IG's findings on Thunder Vision. Based on months of investigation--and interviews with scores of witnesses--the IG paints a different picture of Major General Goldfein: an officer who leaned hard on the contract selection team and steered the deal toward a firm with close Air Force ties.

From the report, we know that Major General Goldfein tried to assume a greater role in the contracting process, by joining the selection panel. Rebuffed in that attempt, he became an adviser to the team and lobbied tirelessly for the company that eventually won the contract, Strategic Message Services (SMS). The deal--which would provide enhanced audio-visual support for the USAF Thunderbirds--was later cancelled, after rival firms filed a protest.

As an active participant in the contracting process, Major General Goldfein knew that SMS's bid was far higher than those submitted by other firms. He was also aware that the Air Force had the capability to provide the required support "in house," through a training squadron at Hill AFB, Utah. But he kept pushing SMS until the selection team chief finally relented. "Sorry guys, I caved" the officer told his colleagues, after a final meeting with Goldfein. Another participant said the experience left him feeling "dirty."

How was that in the best interest of the Air Force and the nation? Short answer--it wasn't. True, there was no immediate personal gain for General Goldfein, but he was aware that the Thunder Vision plan had strong support from the USAF Chief of Staff, General Michael Moseley. With the chief's personal interest in the project, there was a long-term incentive for Goldfein to steer the project in a direction that Moseley would support.

To be fair, Major General Goldfein strongly disagrees with the report and its findings, disputing some of the comments and actions attributed to him. But his claims go against the testimony of other participants, and the conclusions of the IG.

As for the price he paid, there are many in the Air Force who would say that Steve Goldfein got off easy. He may never see his third star, but he'll still retire with a comfortable pension, and the opportunity for even bigger bucks as a consultant or defense contractor.

Compare that to the Technical Sergeant who was court-martialed for adding $75 to his claim for a Do-It-Yourself (DITY) move. That man lost his career for less than one percent of the Thunder Vision contract.

Like that E-6, Major General Goldfein made a mistake--and was held accountable. There's nothing inappropriate about that. If anything, Goldfein should be thankful that he faced "justice" as a two-star general, and not a Tech Sergeant.

2 comments:

Engineer said...

I'm not sure how you calculated the 1% comment in the next to last paragraph. If you're talking about a $50M project, $75 is 1 and 1/2 ten thousandth of a percent.

PCSSEPA said...

As a fellow member of the Class of 83', I cannot fathom the seeming obliviousness to the blatant violations of the Honor Code that we all took seriously while at the Academy. Isn't it a life long pledge? An ideal to be honorable in all of our dealings? That's the way I took it. Maybe it is different for the Goldfeins. At the very least, the both of them are quibbling and that my friends is a violation that used to get you a dismissal.