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Air Force Removes Top Weapons Buyer for Not Disclosing Northrop Tie

Richard Lombardi. Defense Department photo
Richard Lombardi. Defense Department photo

The U.S. Air Force has removed its top weapons buyer for failing to disclose a financial connection to defense contractor Northrop Grumman Corp.

The service on Thursday announced that Richard Lombardi, acting assistant secretary of the Air Force for acquisition, "was reassigned to duties outside of the Air Force acquisition portfolio" after failing to report "a Northrop Grumman retirement account held by his spouse in his annual public financial disclosure form," according to a statement from Lt. Col. Christopher Karns, a spokesman for the service at the Pentagon.

Northrop in October won a major contract to build the U.S. military's future fleet of stealth bombers.

A team led by Northrop, maker of the B-2 Spirit stealth bomber and drone aircraft, beat out another led by Boeing Co., the world's largest aerospace company, and Lockheed Martin Corp., the world's largest defense contractor, for the $21.4 billion initial contract as part of the Air Force's Long Range Strike Bomber, or LRS-B, program.

Indeed, the Air Force's decision to reassign Lombardi came days before the Feb. 16 deadline for government auditors to rule on a protest of the decision from the losing bidders, according to an article by Tony Capaccio, a reporter at Bloomberg News.

In an email to Military.com on Friday, Karns said Lombardi didn't play any role in the service's decision to award the contract to Northrop.

"It is important to note, Mr. Lombardi was not a member of the LRS-B source selection team and was not serving as the Service Acquisition Executive during that contract award process," he said.

It wasn't immediately clear whether Lombardi's financial connection to Northrop was raised in the complaint filed by Boeing and Lockheed with the Government Accountability Office. A spokesman for the office didn't immediately return a call requesting comment.

Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James has tapped Darlene Costello, a senior acquisition official in the office of the undersecretary of defense, acquisition, technology and logistics, to assume Lombardi's duties as principal deputy assistant secretary of the Air Force for acquisition and logistics, Karns said.

James has also referred the matter involving to Lombardi to the Pentagon's inspector general's office, Karns said. "The Air Force places a tremendous emphasis on accountability and professional responsibility," he said.

James was informed about this matter on Feb. 3 and removed Lombardi from the acquisition portfolio the following day, Karns said. "Finding a replacement and congressional notifications took place prior to public announcement," he said.

Lombardi is now serving as the special assistant for the Invisible Wounds Initiative in the office of the undersecretary of the Air Force, Karns said. He previously served as the principal deputy assistant secretary of the Air Force for acquisition and logistics from May 2014 through November 2015, and as the deputy assistant secretary for acquisition integration from September 2012 to April 2014, he said.

The Air Force has been criticized in the past for acquisition wrongdoing.

The service's initial deal with Chicago-based Boeing for a fleet of new refueling aircraft was canceled in 2004 amid a scandal involving Boeing's chief financial officer, Michael Sears, who offered a job to the Air Force's top procurement official, Darleen Druyun, during negotiations. Both were sentenced to serve jail time.

-- Brendan McGarry can be reached at brendan.mcgarry@military.com. Follow him on Twitter at @BrendanMcGarry.

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