Flawed Thunderbirds Contract Tainted with Improper Influence

Back in May 2006, POGO posted a blog entry about the Air Force improperly steering a $50 million contract to produce large-scale video shows during Thunderbirds Air Demonstration Squadron performances to a company connected to senior Air Force officers. POGO noted that the Department of Defense Inspector General and FBI were investigating the contract, which the Air Force voluntarily terminated after a competing bidder filed a protest.

Almost two years later, the DoD IG has finally released its findings in a redacted 251-page report. The report concludes that Air Force Maj. Gen. Stephen M. Goldfein and others went to improper lengths to steer the contract to Strategic Message Solutions (SMS), an inexperienced and ill-equipped company that tendered a bid twice as expensive as a competing vendor's. SMS also had close contacts with senior Air Force officers and members of the Thunderbirds. The report highlights an Air Force contracting process fraught with improper influence, irregular procedures, glaring conflicts of interest, and an award decision that "did not represent the best value for the Air Force." As it happened, the Thunderbirds fiasco occurred shortly after another major procurement scandal that sent Air Force acquisition chief Darleen Druyun to prison.

The U.S. Attorney's Office in Nevada, home of Nellis Air Force Base and the Thunderbirds, declined to prosecute the case. Goldfein, who is now Vice Director of the Pentagon's Joint Staff, and four other officers not named in the report received administrative punishments.