McCaskill Presses for Better Accountability from Air Force Leadership

Questions nominees at Armed Services hearing

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Following reports late last week revealing that Air Force leadership tried repeatedly to use counterterrorism funds to upgrade flight accommodations for their top generals, U.S. Senator Claire McCaskill questioned those nominated to lead the Air Force about their commitment to accountability.
 
The Washington Post, in an article published on Friday, uncovered that some Air Force officials asked to use tax dollars designated to fight terrorism to create luxury suites in military planes for high-level officials called Senior Leader in Transit Comfort Capsules (SLICCs).  The Air Force repeatedly requested approximately $16.2 million to devote to the project, which included beds, couches, and flat screen televisions, but was denied by Congress, prompting Air Force leadership to drastically scale back the project and pay for it through separate Air Force funds.
 
At one point during the project, officials ordered the color of the leather seats changed from brown to Air Force blue and the wood in the capsules to be replaced with darker color.  As the project changed, the estimated cost rose 66 percent above the initial estimate, from $1.7 million to $2.7 million for each SLICC.
 
“This is offensive to the American taxpayer,” McCaskill said at the hearing.  “It seems capricious, it seems arbitrary, it seems like folks there have lost touch with the fact that this is not monopoly money.”
 
The Senate Armed Services Committee Tuesday considered the nominations of several officials to high-level positions within the Air Force, including Michael B. Donley to be Secretary of the Air Force, and General Duncan J. McNabb – who is reported to have initiated the luxury suite project in 2006 – to lead the Air Force’s Transportation Command.
 
“This is just one little thing, but it speaks to a culture, and that’s what strikes fear in my governmental accountability heart,” McCaskill said, referring to the culture of command in the Air Force.
 
McCaskill said that culture was at the root of her concerns about Air Force leadership.  In April, following a Department of Defense Inspector General report, McCaskill asked that top officials at the Air Force be held accountable for improper involvement in awarding a $50 million contract to a former colleague and friend.  By June, the head of the Air Force and another top official had been asked to resign by Defense Secretary Robert Gates.  McCaskill contends that these types of incidents reveal serious accountability problems within the branch and reflect the attitudes of Air Force leadership.
 
“I know this is a little bit of money compared to a tanker; it’s a little bit of money compared to the budget, but it is, in fact, a culture that shows that there is not the level of accountability that I think the American taxpayers and our men and women in uniform deserve,” McCaskill said.