In Memory

George Vernon Orr - Class Of 1933

George Vernon Orr

Verne Orr, Air Force Chief Known for Fight Against Waste, Dies at 92

Verne Orr, who as secretary of the Air Force under President Ronald Reagan oversaw the final development of the B-1 bomber and, in a campaign against fraud and waste, introduced more competition into the process of bidding for military contracts, died on November 27, 2008 at his home in Pasadena, California.  He was 92.  The death was confirmed by his daughter, Carolyn Orr Fulton.

Before Mr. Orr, who was Air Force secretary from 1981 to 1985, large contracts were often awarded for so long a term that a winning contractor frequently had what amounted to a monopoly.  He favored competition even after work was begun so that the best performers in shared contracts were first in line for a bigger share of subsequent work.  His effort to reduce costs through competition was manifested most notably in the "great engine war," which pitted General Electric against Pratt & Whitney in a continuing battle for billions of dollars to build engines for F-15 and F-16 fighters.

Mr. Orr also stunned General Electric and Rockwell International by temporarily refusing to grant them further contracts after their employees had defrauded the Air Force with overcharges, at G.E. on a project upgrading the re-entry vehicles on Minuteman missiles, at Rockwell on a contract to provide data processing systems and spare parts for a flying command post.  And, in a rare move for a Pentagon official, he canceled development of a laser-guided bomb because it was going to cost too much.

George Vernon Orr Jr. was born in Des Moines but moved with his family to California, where he attended high school and earned a bachelor's degree from Pomona College and a master's in business administration from Stanford.

After serving with the Navy in World War II, he joined his father's Pasadena car dealership, then spent three years running a local savings and loan association.  He was named California's director of motor vehicles in 1966 by Mr. Reagan, the newly elected governor, and in 1970 began a five-year term as the state's director of finance.  He moved to Washington in 1980 to work for Mr. Reagan's presidential campaign, then served as deputy director of the president-elect's transition team.

After leaving Washington in 1985 because of the failing health of his first wife, Joan Peak, who died in 1989, Mr. Orr ran a planning and management consulting company in California with his second wife, Sarah Smith Orr.  From 1999 to 2002, he was a dean at the University of La Verne in La Verne, California.

Three years ago he received a doctorate in politics and public planning from Claremont Graduate University, where he wrote his thesis on the development of the B-1.

In addition to his wife and his daughter, who lives in Baltimore, he is survived by his son, Robert Vernon Orr of Glen Gardner, New Jersey; two stepsons, Windsor Smith of Sunnyvale, California, and Geoffrey Smith of Pasadena; and two grandchildren.

New York Times, December 6, 2008