A government ethics organization has filed a formal complaint asking the Defense Department Inspector General's Office to investigate Acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan's ties to his former employer, Boeing Co. The group, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW), claims Shanahan violated ethics rules by promoting the company's interests at the Pentagon.
The complaint comes the same day President Donald Trump announced that the U.S. will ground all Boeing 737 MAX-8 jets effective immediately after two crashes involving foreign airlines in less than six months killed nearly 350 people.
"We're gonna be issuing an emergency order of prohibition to ground all flights of the 737 MAX-8 and the 737 MAX-9 and planes associated with that line," Trump told reporters at the White House.
"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.
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On Tuesday, reporters asked Shanahan about his 737 MAX-8 ties and whether he could vouch for the plane's safety.
"Let's let the FAA and others take command of the situation," he said.
CREW said it doesn't matter whether Shanahan, who worked for Boeing for more than 30 years, had direct involvement with the defense programs.
"We don't know whether Shanahan had direct involvement in decisions affecting Boeing, but even the appearance of bias raises serious concerns and potential ethics violations," said CREW Executive Director Noah Bookbinder in a release.
"Boeing has been particularly successful in winning government contracts, including multiple multibillion-dollar contracts for major aircraft programs," the release said.
It is rumored that Trump plans to nominate Shanahan for the permanent defense secretary position in coming weeks.
"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," Army Lt. Col. Joe Buccino, Shanahan's spokesman, said in a statement to Military.com. "Secretary Shanahan remains focused on increasing lethality across the military and aligning the Department along the National Defense Strategy."
After Shanahan was named interim 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 had 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 heavily criticizing the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, manufactured by Boeing's direct competitor Lockheed Martin Corp.
Shanahan reportedly called the F-35 "f---ed up" and said Lockheed, unlike Boeing, "doesn't know how to run a program," according to Politico.
Responding to the report, Shanahan didn't dispute he had been critical of the F-35 program, which is set to cost a trillion dollars over its lifetime.
"I am biased toward performance; I am biased toward giving the taxpayer their money's worth," he said. "And the F-35 unequivocally, I can say, has a lot of opportunity for more performance."
As deputy defense secretary, Shanahan joined other top leaders to promote the F-15X fourth-generation fighter proposal, Bloomberg said in December.
Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson confirmed to reporters last month that, while the service needs to boost its fighter inventory, it had not expected to do so with a Boeing-made F-15X variant, apparently confirming speculation that the decision was forced upon it.
Boeing won a variety of contracts in 2018, including the Air Force's T-X trainer, which will replace the current T-38 Talon fleet.
The T-X announcement in September marked the third major contract that year for Boeing, the U.S.' largest aerospace firm.
The Air Force that month also selected the company to build the replacement for its UH-1N Huey helicopter, at a cost of approximately $2.38 billion. In August, the Navy selected it to build its first operational carrier-based MQ-25 tanker drone.
However, those contract negotiations -- some years in the making -- had already been well underway before Shanahan took his new post.