Secretary of the US Air Force James Roche and acquisition chief Marvin Sambur are walking out slightly ahead of a fresh wave of inquiries into the scandal-plagued proposal to acquire 100 Boeing 767-200 tankers.

Both officials announced last week plans to retire no later than 20 January, the first day of the second Bush administration. Pentagon officials describe both departures as voluntary decisions, with Roche privately informing US Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld in early October.

The Pentagon has refused to deliver thousands of emails by Roche and Sambur relating to the tanker lease deal to a Senate panel. In retaliation, a furious Senator John McCain has blocked important Pentagon business in the Senate, including all nominations to senior posts throughout the military.

The Senate Armed Services Committee plans to hold a year-long series of hearings into the three-year tanker debacle, recently inflamed by admissions in court of widespread conflicts of interest tainting several recent contract awards to Boeing. The matter remains the subject of a federal investigation and a review by the US Government Accountability Office, the investigative arm of Congress. Both inquiries are scheduled to be complete as the Senate hearings begin.

Meanwhile, plans to resume the air force's tanker modernisation programme will resume next month with the release of two key documents - a mobility capability study to clarify the Pentagon's air transport needs and an analysis of alternatives to determine the shape of tanker acquisition strategy. EADS North America is waiting for an opportunity to offer the A330-200 tanker in competition with the Boeing product.



Source: Flight International