Monday, June 30, 2008

No Surprise

An Air Force general who received administrative punishment for his role in the "Thundervision” contracting scandal is retiring from active duty.

Major General Stephen Goldfein, Vice Director of the Joint Staff, will leave the Air Force in the near future. In From the Cold has learned that Goldfein's retirement was announced late last week, in a “Senior Leader” message issued by Lieutenant General Richard Newton III, the Air Force Deputy Chief of Staff for Manpower and Personnel.

While Goldfein’s retirement date was not revealed, he is expected to depart his post in the coming weeks. Senior leader announcements are routinely published by General Newton’s office and cover reassignments and retirements for flag-rank officers, command chief master sergeants and civilians in the Senior Executive Service (SES).

General Goldfein was harshly criticized in a report by the DoD Inspector General’s Office, for his role in steering an audiovisual contract to a firm that included his former boss as one of its partners. The contract--dubbed "Thundervision--covered media services for the USAF Thunderbirds, the Air Force precision flying team.

At the time the deal was finalized in late 2005, Goldfein served as commander of the Air Warfare Center at Nellis AFB, Nevada. The Thunderbirds were one of many units that fell under Goldfein’s purview.

According to DoD investigators, Major General Goldfein lobbied actively on behalf of Strategic Message Solutions (SMS), a Pennsylvania firm headed by media executive Ed Shipley and retired General Hal Hornburg, the former Commander of Air Combat Command (ACC). In that post, Hornburg approved Goldfein’s Nellis assignment and served as his supervisor before retiring in January, 2005.

As part of his lobbying effort, Goldfein tried to become a voting member of the source selection panel that awarded the contract. Told that he could not serve in that capacity, General Goldfein signed on as an “advisor,” and urged the panel to select SMS over other private firms and a USAF squadron that specializes in audiovisual support.

Members of the selection group told investigators they felt extreme pressure from Goldfein. One even said the experience left him feeling “dirty.” After bowing to General Goldfein’s demands, the chief of the selection panel apologized to his colleagues. “Sorry guys, I caved,” he was quoted as saying.

Award of the contract to SMS prompted a protest from another firm. That prompted then-Air Force Secretary Michael Wynne to request a review by DoD IG. The $50 million contract was later cancelled.

The Defense Department investigation lasted for more than a year and was joined, at one point, by the FBI and the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Las Vegas. The Justice Department declined to prosecute civilian participants in the scandal, citing a lack of evidence. The DoD inquiry continued until late last year; a redacted version of the 250-page report was released in April, after excerpts were published in the Washington Post.

As a result of the investigation, General Mike Moseley, the outgoing Air Force Chief of Staff, imposed administrative punishment on Goldfein and another officer, who has not been identified. General Goldfein and the second officer were sanctioned for failing to meet USAF standards in the Thundervision episode. Three other Air Force members were referred to their chains of command for possible punishment.

According to Air Force Times, Goldfein received a Letter of Reprimand for his conduct, enough to derail a flag officer's career. Before the controversy, General Goldfein advanced steadily through the ranks, serving as squadron, group and wing commander, in addition to high-level staff assignments.

After leaving the Nellis post in October 2006, Goldfein briefly served as Vice Commander of Air Combat Command, located at Langley AFB, Virginia. He assumed his current position on the Joint Staff in February 2007.

Goldfein’s retirement makes him the highest-ranking casualty of the Thundervision scandal (to date), but the matter is far from settled. After reviewing the initial report, the chairman and ranking member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, Senators Carl Levin and John McCain, asked the DoD IG to reopen its investigation of the audio-visual deal, with emphasis on the conduct of senior officials.

Levin and McCain made their request in response to revelations from the original summary, which revealed that General Moseley socialized with Shipley and Hornburg while SMS was bidding for the Thundervision contract. Moseley was not accused of any wrong-doing in the first IG investigation. A second probe into the matter began in early May.

Also unresolved is the matter of Goldfein’s reassignment while under investigation. As reported by this blog in April, Air Force personnel regulations prohibit members from accepting new assignments while being investigated by the security forces or the USAF Office of Special Investigations.

Current and former commanders tell In From the Cold they typically use a broad interpretation of the regulation, to cover inquires by any investigative agency, including the DoD IG. Under that widely-accepted policy, General Goldfein’s assignments to ACC and the Joint Staff—during the first IG investigation—may have violated Air Force personnel rules. It is unclear if the current IG probe will examine the assignment issue.

Goldfein’s retirement comes less than a month after General Moseley and Mr. Wynne were forced out of their posts. Their resignations came after a separate DoD report slammed the Air Force for a “lack of accountability” in its nuclear weapons program.

Defense Secretary Robert Gates, who demanded the resignations of both men, has nominated General Norton Schwartz as the next Chief of Staff, and Michael Donley, a veteran DoD official, as the new Air Force Secretary. Donley has already assumed his post, pending Senate confirmation.

General Schwartz is expected to assume his new position after 1 August, Moseley’s scheduled departure date.

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