U.S. Air Force Secretary James Roche is expected to resign effective in January, defense officials said Tuesday as the Air Force continues to reel from the biggest Pentagon procurement scandal in a decade.
Roche, a 23-year Navy veteran and former Northrop Grumman Corp. executive, planned to retire to his home in Annapolis, Md., sources familiar with his plans said.
“He’s leaving in January,” said one defense official, who asked not to be named.
Roche had wanted to resign when the term of Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. John Jumper ends next September but decided to leave early in the face of continuing pressure from Republican Sen. John McCain of Arizona, a key critic of a now-derailed $23.5 billion Air Force deal to acquire Boeing Co. tankers.
News of Roche’s resignation comes a day after the former chief financial officer of Boeing Co. pleaded guilty to aiding the illegal hiring of the former No. 2 Air Force weapons buyer, Darleen Druyun, while she was still overseeing billions of dollars of Boeing contracts at the Air Force.
Druyun was sentenced Oct. 1 to nine months in prison for violating conflict-of-interest laws.
“Roche didn’t intend to stay much into a second term anyway, but he’s leaving sooner than he wanted because of the pressure exerted by Sen. McCain over the tanker deal,” said defense analyst Loren Thompson of the Lexington Institute.
Other issues for Roche
Roche had already been forced last March to withdraw his nomination as Army secretary amid continuing questions about the tanker deal and the Air Force’s handling of a spate of sexual assaults at the Air Force Academy.
Roche also remains under investigation for a possible conflict of interest involving Robin Cleveland, a top official at the White House Office of Management and Budget.
The White House in September asked the Justice Department to investigate an e-mail exchange in which Roche told Cleveland to “give me tanker” after calling his former company, Northrop, to recommend Cleveland’s brother for a job.
Sources close to Roche say he has been perplexed by what he considered an unfair crusade by McCain, a fellow former Navy man, against him and the Air Force.
McCain takes aim
The Arizona senator, meanwhile, has criticized Roche’s continued efforts to gain approval for the controversial tanker deal, even as the Pentagon and federal prosecutors expanded their investigations into the deal and Druyun’s actions.
“I believe that Secretary Roche has not performed his duties in a manner ... (that) serves the people of this country,” McCain told Defense News in an interview published Monday.
He said the Boeing tanker deal amounted to corporate welfare for the Chicago-based company that would have cost taxpayers billions of dollars more than a straight purchase.