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October 8, 2009—Air Force Secretary Michael Donley Thursday morning issued a letter of admonishment to retired Gen. Michael Moseley, former Chief of Staff, for his alleged role in the terminated $50 million Thunderbird Airshow Production Services (TAPS) contract. Donley acted after reviewing a DOD Inspector General report released in July that claimed Moseley had violated ethics regulations.

Moseley protested the IG findings and told Donley he believed the process "appears to have been politicized."

Moseley will continue to be retired at the four-star pay grade and not lose any other retirement benefits. However, it has not been decided yet whether Moseley will be allowed to conduct business with the US government.

In an Air Force release, Donley said: "Moseley’s years of dedicated service temper, but do not excuse, his failure in this case to live up to the well-established standards of conduct expected of all airmen. Everyone is accountable for his or her actions. This is especially so for our senior leaders, who must also create an environment where subordinates respect established standards and are willing to engage when things are not right."

The TAPS contract was meant to create a multimedia, jumbotron-style show to accompany demonstrations by the Thunderbird aerial demonstration team. An internal Air Force review of the contract in 2006 raised questions about how it was awarded, and a subsequent Defense Criminal Investigative Service probe determined that the contract was “tainted with improper influence, irregular contracting procedures, and preferential treatment” for the winning contractor, Strategic Message Solutions (SMS), according to USAF.

As a result, in April 2008, one Air Force general officer and four other officers were disciplined. (See Goldfein, Four Others Disciplined) Shortly thereafter, Sens. Carl Levin (D-Mich.) and John McCain (R-Ariz.), the chair and ranking member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said they wanted closer scrutiny of the role in TAPS played by senior serving or retired officers, and asked the Pentagon IG to look deeper. (See Thunder Clouds Rising)

The IG released its findings from that second probe in July and informed Donley that it had concluded that Moseley: provided preferential treatment to SMS; created an appearance of improper disclosure of nonpublic information; misused subordinates' time and government property; and solicited and accepted gifts from a prohibited source—all in violation of ethics regulations.

The IG suggested that Donley take "appropriate corrective action," and, after reviewing the matter for over a month, Donley applied the letter of admonishment.

At a press conference, Donley also said the Navy is conducting an impartial review of whether Moseley can conduct business with the government as a result of the IG’s findings.

The IG had also examined the TAPS contract role played by retired Gen. Hal Hornburg, former Air Combat Command chief, who was a business partner with SMS, but Donley made no statement on actions he might take. However, an Air Force spokesman said, “We understand the matter is still open.”

We received a copy of a Sept. 28 memorandum Moseley sent to Donley when the Secretary asked for his comments on the IG report. In that correspondence, Moseley rejected the IG's findings, asserting that Air Force lawyers had vetted his actions throughout and found no violations of ethics rules.

Moseley said he believes the IG had been put under political pressure to find him culpable.

He emphasized, "The only guidance I gave anyone during the evolution of this endeavor was to 'do this right.' "

He wrote, “I categorically disagree with the findings and I reject the notion of any wrongdoing on my part.” During the period the TAPS contract was being formulated, he said he "had every [sic] document and communication (written and electronic) reviewed in real time by a [Judge Advocate General] counsel to insure all regulations and standards are met."

Moseley declared that the reinvestigation had revealed "no new facts from the previous two-plus year investigation." He noted, too, that his counsel had provided "compelling evidence that the monetary value of the gifts received fell well within the allowable standard under the existing regulations." And, he added, "the alleged solicitation of a gift was, in fact, the simple passing of a request, not a solicitation of a personal gift that neither I or my family would benefit from in any way."

Moseley said the process of investigating the TAPS contract "appears to have been politicized" and charged that "one can only conclude that, following the public pressure brought to bear on the DOD/IG by certain officials in the Congress (an elected member and staff) to continue to vilify senior Air Force leadership and to find some type of wrongdoing on my part, we find ourselves where we are today."

He said that politicizing the IG process "is not only a miscarriage of that process, but, in my mind, a major breach of faith."

Moseley memo to Donley with JAG letter attached

USAF release on admonishment

Our previous coverage on the TAPS issue:

October 8, 2009
Moseley Disciplined Over TAPS

July 13, 2009
Pentagon IG Alleges Improprieties by Moseley

May 29, 2008

May 9, 2008
Thundervision, the Sequel

April 30, 2008
Show of Support

April 28, 2008
ThunderClouds Rising

April 28, 2009
Rolling Thundervision

April 22, 2008
Fat Lady Hasn't Sung

April 18, 2008
Goldfein, Four Others Disciplined

May 22, 2006
DOD IG and FBI Investigate Air Force Contract Award