Northrop Grumman
The Triton unmanned aircraft system is shown completing its first flight from the Northrop Grumman manufacturing facility in Palmdale, California, in this handout photo released by the U.S. Navy, May 22, 2013. Northrop Grumman/Alex Evers/Handout via Reuters

A senior official responsible for acquisitions contracts for the U.S. Air Force was removed from his post after he disclosed his wife’s retirement account with Northrop Grumman. The Virginia-based maker of weapons systems is one of the biggest U.S. defense contractors, which last year won a secretive $80 billion contract to design and build the country’s next-generation, long-range, high-altitude bomber.

Richard W. Lombardi, who in December was named principal deputy assistant Air Force secretary for acquisition, admitted recently he failed to mention his wife’s ties to the company in mandatory public financial disclosure forms. Lombardi was removed from his position by his boss, Air Force Secretary Deborah James, late Thursday.

“Rightfully so, the Air Force places a tremendous emphasis on accountability and professional responsibility,” Air Force spokesman Lt. Col. Christopher Karns told the Washington Post.

Lombardi’s future with the Air Force is uncertain. He’s been moved to a different position while the Defense Department Inspector General investigates.

Richard Lombardi
Richard Lombardi US Air Force

The move comes just months after Boeing and Lockheed Martin called the way the contract for the Long Range Strike Bomber, was granted to Northrop Grumman “fundamentally flawed.” The companies didn’t return calls for comment Saturday, but in November, Boeing filed a complaint with the Government Accountability Office disputing the way its rival won one of the largest-ever defense contracts and the largest since Lockheed Martin won the bid for the Joint Strike Fighter more than a decade ago.

Lombardi’s removal highlights the sensitivity the federal government has over any perceived or real favoritism involving defense contracts.

Critics have long pointed to the close ties between the Defense Department and the private-sector makers of its bombs, planes and warships that vie for lucrative years-long contracts worth billions of dollars.

Luring defense officials onto their corporate boards or into their executive suites can give them an edge, be it job experience or shady inside scoops. The U.S. defense budget makes up about 16 percent of all federal spending, more than the country commits to education, veterans benefits, transportation and nonmilitary scientific research combined. (Social Security and Health and Human Services take up more than half.) That makes U.S. defense a roughly $600 billion per year pot of cash.

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In 2013, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington successfully forced Defense to release a database of so-called ethics opinions, legally required documents that outline what an exiting official can and cannot do at his or her next job. For example, former military officials are prohibited from representing a company to the government on projects they worked on. But they can work behind the scenes so long as they do not directly communicate with federal officials. And former defense officials are not prohibited from working for any company.

The documents show of about 320 ethics opinions in which officials named specific companies they intended to work for after leaving public service, 43 named five of the country’s largest defense contractors: Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman, Boeing, General Dynamics and Raytheon.