Air Force Official Found Dead

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Charles Riechers, a top Air Force official, was found dead Sunday, of an apparent suicide. He had recently come under scrutiny over a well-paying temporary job with a prominent defense contractor while awaiting confirmation. That led some members of Congress to open an inquiry.

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep.

DEBORAH AMOS, host:

And I'm Deborah Amos.

A top Air Force official was found dead on Sunday, an apparent suicide. He had recently come under scrutiny over a temporary job.

Charles Riechers was the second-highest ranking official in the Air Force Procurement Office. But reports earlier this month say Riechers had accepted a high-paying job with a prominent defense contractor while awaiting confirmation. That led some members of Congress to open an inquiry.

NPR's Guy Raz is following the story and he joins us now. Good morning, Guy.

GUY RAZ: Good morning, Deb.

AMOS: What was Charles Riechers' role at the Pentagon, Guy?

RAZ: Well, he was the Air Force's deputy assistant secretary for defense for procurement. And that basically means he was in charge of awarding major contracts. He was confirmed to that post back in January of this year by the U.S. Senate. And he basically had a sort of an uneventful tenure. He was wildly respected and well regarded. He was 20-year veteran at the Air Force, a former lieutenant colonel who served in the first Gulf War.

But about two weeks ago, the Washington Post revealed that while Riechers was waiting to be confirmed by the Senate as the assistant secretary, he took a job with a major defense contractor called Commonwealth Research Institute for about two months of work, and he was paid about $26,000 for that work.

AMOS: How did he get that job with the defense contractor and what did he do?

RAZ: Well, you might be surprised by it was actually arranged for him by the Air Force itself. The Air Force said that it needed an analyst with his kind of experience to do that kind of consulting work for them so they asked Commonwealth Research to temporarily hire him to work on research projects dealing with intelligence and readiness.

Now, when Riechers was actually contacted by the Washington Post earlier this month to find out what he did for the company, he admitted that he really didn't do much for Commonwealth Research at all.

AMOS: Guy, why did no one at the Air Force see this arrangement as an apparent conflict of interest? What you have is a senior procurement official who went to work for a company that received millions of dollars in defense contracts.

RAZ: Well, Deb, strangely enough, the Air Force says it's a common practice to ask defense contractors to hire people that it recommends for certain post. And, of course, that begs the question, you know, whether Charles Riechers himself was actually culpable when, in fact, it was the Air Force that gave him assurances that, you know, taking this job was completely above board.

AMOS: So what does that say about the relationship between the Air Force and its contractors?

RAZ: Deb, I think it says a lot. And it's not just the Air Force, but the other service branches and the department of defense. The relationship is very, very cozy. And both the Pentagon and defense contractors really lean on one another very closely. But I think, specifically in this case, it really calls into question the judgment of the Air Force.

Just about two years ago, the Air Force was mired in another scandal when another of its top procurement officers, Darlene Druyun, was sent to prison, actually, for nine months. She had actually arranged a job for herself with Boeing while she was still a U.S. government employee and, actually, turned out that while she was working at the Pentagon, she steered several lucrative deals - Boeing's way.

So in the case of Charles Riechers, you know, while the Air Force is defending what it did, it really seemed surprising because they were already under the microscope and certainly even the appearance of impropriety in this case was something that they would have wanted to avoid.

AMOS: Now, this apparent suicide plus an inquiry, does that bring more scrutiny to this whole relationship?

RAZ: I think it does. And I would be very surprised if the Air Force or any of the other service branches for that matter continued this practice.

AMOS: Thank you very much.

RAZ: Thank you, Deb.

AMOS: NPR's defense correspondent Guy Raz.

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