By Associated Press Writer
updated 4/17/2008 3:16:25 PM ET 2008-04-17T19:16:25

A Pentagon investigation scheduled for release this week will be highly critical of Air Force leadership, including its top officer, in connection with efforts to steer a $50 million contract to promote the Thunderbirds aerial stunt team, The Associated Press has learned.

A report compiled by the Defense Department's Inspector General finds that the 2005 contract for Thunderbirds' publicity wasn't awarded through a fair and open competition. And it will say that improper influence was used to choose a particular bidder who had ties to a retired general, according to several defense and Congressional officials.

The investigation comes amid escalating problems for Air Force leadership, including questions about the service's handling of nuclear and nuclear-related materials, challenges to a recent $35 billion Air Force tanker contract award, and anger over efforts by the Air Force to lobby Congress for additional funding for the F-22 Raptor.

No criminal conduct
Details of the inspector general's report have not yet been released, but officials familiar with it said that it does not find any criminal conduct. They said Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Michael Moseley comes under fire, but the report does not find that he was personally involved in the matter. Instead, the criticism largely is over early communications he had with the eventual winning bidders.

The officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the report has not yet been released, said the report is most critical of Maj. Gen. Stephen M. Goldfein, who was commander of the Air Warfare Center at Nellis Air Force Base in Nevada and was then responsible for the Thunderbirds.

Goldfein is now the vice director of the Joint Staff. Capt. John Kirby, spokesman for the Joint Staff, said that Goldfein has declined to comment.

Copyright 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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