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Pentagon IG Investigating Acting SecDef Over Possible Ethics Violations

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The Defense Department Inspector General has begun its investigation into Acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan one week after a government ethics watchdog organization filed a formal complaint asking the office to probe Shanahan‘s past ties to the Boeing Company.

The DoD IG “has decided to investigate complaints we recently received that Acting Secretary Patrick Shanahan allegedly took actions to promote his former employer, Boeing, and disparage its competitors, allegedly in violation of ethics rules,” spokeswoman Dwrena Allen said in a statement to Military.com Wednesday.

“In his recent Senate Armed Services Committee testimony, Acting Secretary Shanahan stated that he supported an investigation into these allegations. We have informed him that we have initiated this investigation,” Allen said

Last week, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW), filed the request alleging Shanahan violated ethics rules by promoting Boeing’s interests at the Pentagon.

Shanahan worked at Boeing for more than 30 years, where he directly oversaw military contract programs including Boeing Missile Defense Systems and Boeing Rotorcraft Systems, as well as commercial production including the 737 MAX-8 and 787 Dreamliner,” CREW said in its complaint.

That same day the request was filed, President Donald Trump announced that the U.S. would ground all Boeing 737 MAX-8 jets, effective immediately, after two crashes involving foreign airlines in less than six months killed nearly 350 people.

CREW said it doesn’t matter whether Shanahan had direct involvement with Boeing’s defense programs, and noted that Boeing has been “particularly successful” in winning DoD contracts since Shanahan began working at the Pentagon.

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“Boeing has been particularly successful in winning government contracts, including multiple multi-billion dollar contracts for major aircraft programs,” the release said.

“Even the appearance of bias raises serious concerns and potential ethics violations,” CREW Executive Director Noah Bookbinder added in a statement.

On Wednesday, Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., said an investigation into Shanahan was appropriate, and cited a letter she sent to Shanahan in January asking him for an explanation over his “behavior toward the company and its competitors.”

“The American people should be able to trust that government officials are working for them — not for big defense contractors,” Warren said in a statement. “When my office was alerted to allegations that Acting Secretary Shanahan may have advocated on behalf of his former employer, Boeing, while serving as the acting defense secretary, I investigated and took action.”

After Shanahan was named interim defense secretary following former Defense Secretary Jim Mattis’ departure, the Pentagon announced that he would not be involved in future dealings with Boeing, including acquisition decisions.

In January, Shanahan downplayed reports that he has shown favoritism toward Boeing.

“I think that’s just noise,” he told reporters during his first off-camera briefing at the Pentagon.

Earlier that month, Politico reported that Shanahan had been promoting the company in meetings, while criticizing the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, manufactured by Boeing’s direct competitor Lockheed Martin Corp.

Shanahan at the time didn’t dispute he had been critical of the F-35 program.

Responding to CREW’s complaint, Shanahan‘s spokesman Army Lt. Col. Joe Buccino said the acting defense secretary has complied with his ethics requirements.

“Secretary Shanahan has at all times remained committed to complying with his ethics agreement, which screens Boeing matters to another DoD official and ensures no potential for a conflict of interest with Boeing on any matter,” Buccino said in a statement last week. “Secretary Shanahan remains focused on increasing lethality across the military and aligning the Department along the National Defense Strategy.”

— Oriana Pawlyk can be reached at oriana.pawlyk@military.com. Follow her on Twitter at @Oriana0214.

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