Air Force replaces top acquisition official over missed financial disclosure

The Air Force abruptly reassigned its top acquisition official to a non-procurement post, saying he had not properly disclosed a financial interest in the defense firm Northrop Grumman.

Rich Lombardi, the service’s principal deputy assistant secretary for acquisition voluntarily, notified Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James on Feb. 3 that he had failed to declare a Northrop Grumman retirement account in his wife’s name on his annual financial disclosure form. James removed Lombardi from the post the following day, but the Air Force did not publicly announce the decision until Feb. 11 in order to give time for congressional notifications, said Capt. Rebecca Heyse, an Air Force spokeswoman.

James said Lombardi has been reassigned to duties outside of the Air Force acquisition portfolio.

“This is a very important issue and I can assure you that the Air Force is committed to maintaining the highest level of public confidence in the integrity of our programs and operations,” James told an Air Force Association breakfast audience on Feb. 12. “I’ve referred this issue to the DoD inspector general. In order to protect the integrity of that process, I can’t share any additional information at this time.”

Lombardi had also been serving as the acting assistant secretary for acquisition since Bill LaPlante, the Senate-confirmed assistant secretary left government last November. James said Lombardi had been replaced by Darlene Costello, who until recently has been the principal deputy assistant secretary of defense for acquisition.

The news comes at a particularly sensitive time for the Air Force, as it’s currently in the middle of bid protest proceedings involving one of its largest procurements: The forthcoming long-range strike bomber. Northrop Grumman won the contract for what’s expected to be an $80 billion program last October, and Boeing protested the decision. The Government Accountability Office is expected to rule on the protest by Feb. 16.

Asked whether the new disclosure about Lombardi would provide Boeing further grounds for protest, James declined to speculate.

“We’ll see what happens next,” she said.

Costello’s move to fill the suddenly-vacant Air Force post represents the second time in the past month that the assistant secretary of Defense for acquisition’s office has been tapped to fill top posts in the military services.

Earlier, Katrina McFarland was tapped to become the Army’s top acquisition executive following the departure of that service’s longtime assistant secretary, Heidi Shyu.

With both McFarland and her former principal deputy having moved on to other posts, James MacStravic will fill both roles. Formally, he will be the acting principal deputy assistant secretary of Defense for acquisition. Previously, MacStravic served in the same office as the deputy assistant secretary of defense for tactical warfare systems.

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