Senior US Air Force purchasing official found dead

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WASHINGTON, Oct 15 (Reuters) The US Air Force's No. 2 acquisition official, facing scrutiny for a temporary job arranged by the service while he awaited Senate confirmation, was found dead at his home in an apparent suicide, according to an internal Air Force memo obtained by Reuters today.

''Mr Riechers was found deceased in his home, cause of death appears to be suicide, time of death is unknown,'' said the memo, which was issued late yesterday.

Charles Riechers became the principal deputy assistant secretary for acquisition at the Air Force in January 2007 after working two months for defense contractor Commonwealth Research Institute.

The Air Force had no immediate comment.

The Washington Post reported earlier this month that Riechers was hired by Commonwealth Research Institute at the request of the Air Force while Riechers was out of work and awaiting Senate confirmation for his new position. The job paid 13,400 dollars a month.

Commonwealth Research Institute has close ties to the Pentagon and has received hundreds of millions of dollars in military grants and contracts in recent years, according to the Oct. 1 Post report.

''I really didn't do anything for CRI,'' Riechers told the newspaper. ''I got a paycheck from them.'' At the time, the Air Force downplayed the report, saying the temporary job was a common arrangement to help the service under an existing contract. A spokeswoman also said Riechers had been quoted out of context.

But Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin, a Michigan Democrat, criticized the deal and asked the Air Force to explain the arrangement.

New questions arose on Friday about Commonwealth Research Institute when Pemco Aviation Group amended its protest of a 1.2 billion dollar contract awarded to Boeing Co for maintenance of a fleet of 450 KC-135 aerial refueling tankers.

Pemco raised questions about a possible conflict of interest in the award because of ties between Commonwealth Research Institute, its parent Concurrent Technologies, and Boeing.

SETBACK One defense analyst said Riechers' death is yet another setback for the Air Force's weapons-buying office.

''Whatever the reason for the suicide, this is going to contribute to a widespread perception that something is not right about the Air Force acquisition system,'' said Loren Thompson at the Virginia-based Lexington Institute.

''Riechers was under some suspicion because of an expose in the press, but it certainly didn't rise to the level of a serious scandal, so his apparent suicide is hard to explain,'' Thompson added.

Riechers' predecessor, Darleen Druyun, served nine months in jail in 2005 for violating federal conflict of interest laws by taking a job with Boeing while still overseeing billions of dollars of its work for the Air Force.

That scandal prompted Congress to scrap a 23.5 billion dollar tanker deal with Boeing. The service is poised to announce a new contract award in the next few months.

Congressional auditors this year twice upheld protests about a 15 billion dollar Air Force helicopter deal that also went to Boeing.

Riechers was on active duty with the Air Force for 20 years until 2002, when he joined SRI International, a nonprofit scientific research institute, according to a biography published on the Air Force Web site.

From 2002 until November 2006 he worked at various Pentagon offices, including as chief of operations for the Advanced Concept and Technology Demonstration program. The Washington Post said he did that work as a contractor for SRI.

In November, Riechers began working as a senior technical adviser for Commonwealth, ''with assignment to the Assistant Secretary of the Air Force for Acquisition,'' the biography said.

Riechers lived in Loudoun County, Virginia, near Washington, D C REUTERS RSA RN2257

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