Dog Fight

On July 1 air force officials sent a memo to members of the Senate committee in which they acknowledged that Jones had been overpaid. "Air force records relevant to this issue are incomplete and, in some cases, we believe incorrect," the memo stated. "However, based on the best information we have been able to obtain, it appears that the air force should probably have terminated ACIP in December 1993 rather than in July 1995. Payments of ACIP up to July 1995 reflect an error on the part of the air force."

The officials estimated that Jones mistakenly received $1443. "To avoid any question of receiving money not properly due," the memo continued, "the department will complete a thorough audit and Mr. Jones has offered to repay any amount of ACIP found to have been paid in error."

Committee members, however, are not satisfied with this report. One armed services source claims that their own investigation of the pay issue suggests Jones was aware he was being overpaid yet resisted early attempts to recover the money.

The air force memo regarding Jones's pay addresses another potentially embarrassing problem for the South Miami-Dade state senator. For the past five years Jones has been wearing "command pilot wings" on his air force reserve uniform. According to the memo, in 1993 Jones was notified by air force officials that he had accumulated the requisite amount of experience to wear "command" wings when in fact he had not. "Mr. Jones will resume wearing senior pilot wings," the memo stated. "The air force will rescind the aeronautical order that awarded Mr. Jones command pilot wings and restore him to an aeronautical rating of senior pilot."

Although it may seem to be a trivial matter, wearing a pair of wings that has not been earned is a serious matter among military professionals. According to the memo, the air force accepts the blame for both the flight-pay and command-wings errors. "They are trying to protect Jones," one Senate source says. "They are trying to absolve him of responsibility for these issues."

"Clearly Jones has a lot of room to hide here because the air force has taken the blame," adds another Senate source. "But it is still something that Jones is going to have to deal with."

Jones's critics maintain he should have known he was not entitled to wear command pilot wings and he should have known he was being overpaid. Pilots, they note, keep very close track of their flight hours and an even closer eye on their pay. They argue that if Jones can't adequately monitor his own actions, how can he possibly oversee a branch of the service with a $62 billion budget and more than 600,000 employees worldwide?

Jones also faces more questions about his role in a Dade County bond deal. He testified during his June 16 confirmation hearing that he had been cleared of any wrongdoing and that the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), which launched a review of that $200 million transaction, was no longer scrutinizing his conduct in securing the deal for Miami Beach-based Douglas James Securities.

On June 22 the Armed Services Committee met in executive session with representatives of the SEC. According to sources familiar with that briefing, not all the committee's questions were answered, and doubts lingered about whether Jones was still under review.

Senate staffers are poring over other answers Jones provided during his June 16 hearing, in search of additional inconsistencies. According to several sources, they've found at least one: Jones claimed to have "more than 2000 hours" flying time as a fighter pilot. The true number is now believed to be less than 1200 hours.

This week's Armed Services Committee hearing is expected to end with Jones himself appearing before a far more critical committee. His chief opponents remain senators John Warner (R-Va.) and James Inhofe (R-Okla.).

Even before controversy involving flight pay, command wings, and flying hours surfaced, Inhofe said he was troubled by Jones's nomination. "The little white lies that continue to come out bother me," the senator recently told reporters. "There are a number of these. Each one individually could be explained away, but altogether it raises a concern." Inhofe said he had developed "a negative impression of Daryl Jones and his capabilities."

The senator argued that the air force deserved the most qualified candidate available. "You are talking about the Secretary of the Air Force," he emphasized. "So when you have someone in that position and there are hundreds of people out there who are qualified, I would hate to have someone in there who might send the wrong message down the ranks.

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