Opening Statement of Senator Carl Levin, Senate Armed Services Committee Hearing on the DOD Inspector General's Tanker Accountability Report
Mr. Chairman, I would like to start by thanking Senator McCain for the critical role that he has played in bringing to light the problems with the Air Force tanker lease program that we will hear about at today's hearing. I think we all know that, but for Senator McCain's tenacity, these problems probably would not have come to light.
The Inspector General's tanker accountability report identifies serious deficiencies in the tanker lease program. It is no small matter that the report finds a number of senior OSD and Air Force officials responsible for actions that are inconsistent with the requirements of law and regulation.
Unfortunately, Mr. Schmitz, I believe that critical gaps in this report have placed a cloud over it and indeed over the Inspector General's office. In my view, the report fails to discuss critical issues, omits critical material, and redacts key portions of the report in a manner that raises serious questions about whether this report meets applicable requirements for the independence of Inspectors General. In particular:
- In a January 19, 2005, letter to the Inspector General, the former Secretary of the Air Force defended his conduct of the tanker lease program, in part, by stating that White House, OMB and OSD officials played a significant role in moving the program forward and that it is therefore unfair to judge the actions of Air Force officials without reference to the actions of White House, OMB and OSD officials. The letter reads in part:
"[L]imiting any review to the Air Force, and not OSD [Office of the Secretary of Defense], only contributes to the myth that this [the tanker lease] was exclusively an Air Force proposal. It was not. It was a proposal of the Department of Defense and the Administration, and it consistently was supported by three of the four congressional defense committees. . . .
"Indeed, it would be difficult to preserve the credibility of the inspector general process or the investigation results if the investigation is arbitrarily limited to Air Force personnel or Air Force processes, or even DOD personnel and processes . . . .
"[M]embers and committees of congress, as well as the White House, the Office of Management and Budget in particular, were involved from the earliest days and frequently along the way. You simply cannot gain a proper perspective of how good and decent people tried to do the right thing by our warfighters and the American taxpayer without looking at every aspect of how this program developed and evolved. If you are going to undertake this investigation, then I believe you should in all fairness obtain the full cooperation of the Secretary of Defense, the White House and congressional leadership for your inquiry."
- Mr. Schmitz, your tanker accountability report does not contain any response to that point. If in fact you inquired about the role played by the Secretary and Deputy Secretary of Defense and senior White House officials in the tanker lease program, that information is not reflected in the report. The extent to which the Secretary, Deputy Secretary, or senior White House officials authorized, approved, encouraged or directed the actions of the officials who are named in the report has a direct bearing on the responsibility of those officials, and the omission of this information makes the report so incomplete as to be misleading.
- Our ability to fully and fairly assess the responsibility of senior OSD officials is further undermined by your decision to redact references to the role of the White House out of the report. In the absence of this material, it is not possible for us to assess whether the responsibility of the officials named in the report is mitigated by the actions of other unnamed officials who are their superiors. These redactions are made not only from e-mails between Department of Defense officials, but also from Secretary Roche's letter, from Boeing e-mails and even the text of the report itself. There is no legal authority that would conceivably justify the redaction of this material from the report.
- Equally disturbing is the fact that these omissions and redactions in your Inspector General report appear to have been undertaken in consultation with staff in the Office of White House Counsel. In an April 29, 2005, letter to the Committee, you specifically stated that: "The report is complete except for the review by White House Counsel to ensure compliance with the protocols agreed to by [Senator Warner], Senator McCain, Majority Leader Frist, and Judge Gonzales." The report itself footnotes some (but not all) of the redactions with the statement that material has been omitted "because staff of the White House counsel has indicated its intent to invoke an agreement between Members of Congress and the White House . . . ." I am told that you conducted some two weeks of negotiations with the White House over these redactions and omissions.
Mr. Schmitz, when you were confirmed by this Committee, you assured us that every audit and investigation you conducted as Inspector General would be "independent, unbiased, and free from outside interference". The Quality Standards for Federal Offices of Inspector General require no less. Those standards state that Inspectors General "report both to the head of their respective agencies and to the Congress." They also provide that:
"The Inspector General and OIG staff must be free both in fact and appearance from personal, external, and organizational impairments to independence. . . . The Inspector General and OIG staff should avoid situations that could lead reasonable third parties with knowledge of the relevant facts and circumstances to conclude that the OIG is not able to maintain independence in conducting its work."
The Standards specifically enjoin Inspectors General to avoid: "external interference or influence that could improperly or imprudently limit or modify the scope of OIG work or threaten to do so."
Mr. Schmitz, regardless of any agreement that may have been reached between the White House and some Members of Congress relative to the handling of raw documents that were provided to them or to a congressional committee, your report is governed by the requirements of the Inspector General Act and the Standards for Federal Offices of Inspector General. You are required by these laws and standards to report your findings to the entire Congress independent of interference from any outside party. You are not and cannot be absolved of your duties as an Inspector General by an agreement between Members of Congress and the White House relative to materials submitted by the executive branch to some Members of Congress. You are required to issue a thorough and independent report. It appears to me that you have done neither.
- 174 War & Disaster Profiteers Campaign