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Patrick Shanahan
Acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan speaks at an event presented by the Center for Strategic and International Studies. (Department of Defense Photo)

Acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan, who was a veteran Boeing executive before going to the Pentagon, is facing an ethics investigation amid complaints that he has been talking up his former employer and disparaging Boeing’s competitors.

The Defense Department’s Office of the Inspector General today acknowledged that it was looking into the complaints about actions that were “allegedly in violation of ethics rules.”

Shanahan, who spent much of his 31 years at Boeing managing commercial airplane programs, won Senate confirmation to become assistant defense secretary in 2017 and took over as acting defense secretary after James Mattis’ departure at the end of last year.

When Shanahan came to the Pentagon, he pledged to recuse himself from any matters involving Boeing. But in January, Politico quoted two unnamed former government officials as saying that he repeatedly praised Boeing and trashed Lockheed Martin during high-level internal meetings.

One former official quoted him as describing Lockheed Martin’s F-35 fighter program as “f—ed up” and complaining that the company “doesn’t know how to run a program.”

In late January, U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass.,wrote a letter asking Shanahan to respond to the reports, and this month a group called Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington requested an investigation.

In statements sent to news media today, the inspector general’s office said it would follow through with an investigation into the allegations. The office noted that just last week, Shanahan told a Senate hearing he’d support an investigation.

Politico quoted a spokesman for Shanahan, Lt. Col. Joseph Buccino, as saying that the acting secretary “has at all times remained committed to upholding his ethics agreement filed with the DoD.”

Warren, who serves on the Senate Armed Services Committee and officially kicked off her 2020 presidential campaign last month, welcomed news of the investigation. “The American people should be able to trust that government officials are working for them – not for big defense contractors,” Warren said in a statement.

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