Acting Defense Secretary Shanahan Is Cleared in Ethics Inquiry

WASHINGTON — The Pentagon’s inspector general has removed a big hurdle to Acting Defense Secretary Patrick M. Shanahan’s path to make his job permanent, clearing him of allegations that he promoted his former employer, Boeing, and disparaged its competitors for military contracts.

An investigation that examined complaints by a watchdog group, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, was released Thursday morning after being sent to Congress. It did not find that Mr. Shanahan acted inappropriately on behalf of Boeing while he has been in a senior leadership role at the Defense Department.

“The evidence showed that Acting Secretary Shanahan fully complied with his ethical obligations and ethical agreements with regard to Boeing and its competitors,” Glenn A. Fine, the principal deputy inspector general, said in a statement on Thursday.

But Mr. Shanahan may not be out of the woods just yet. The deadly crash of a Boeing 737 Max jet in Ethiopia last month — the second for the jet in just months — brought into public view longstanding complaints about Boeing’s close relationships with federal officials.

Mr. Shanahan was not known for working on the 737 Max, which President Trump grounded last month after days of mounting pressure. But he did play a key role in rescuing another Boeing plane — the 787 Dreamliner — when delays and cost overruns threatened the future of that project.

On Saturday, The New York Times reported that the Boeing plant near Charleston, S.C., which produces the Dreamliner, was plagued by employee complaints of safety issues on the plane stemming from the rapid pace pushed by management to meet quotas after the Dreamliner faced production delays.

While no Dreamliners have failed like the two 737 Max airplanes, the recent rash of negative press around Boeing continues to complicate what is already an uphill battle for Mr. Shanahan in his effort to become the next permanent defense secretary. Whether the investigation’s clearing of Mr. Shanahan carries water with the senators who must confirm him to the post vacated by Jim Mattis, who was beloved on Capitol Hill, is still up in the air.

While Mr. Mattis resigned in protest of Mr. Trump’s policies — including the surprise announcement that American troops would withdraw from Syria — Mr. Shanahan has held the line for the president.

As the deputy defense secretary, Mr. Shanahan made clear that “we are not the Department of No,” as he told officials after the administration announced plans to create a stand-alone Space Force at the Pentagon. (It has since been moved to the oversight of the Air Force.)

Since becoming acting defense secretary, Mr. Shanahan has drawn the ire of some lawmakers. Earlier this year, Senator James M. Inhofe, Republican of Oklahoma and the chairman of the Armed Services Committee, said he did not believe Mr. Shanahan shared the humility of Mr. Mattis, but did not elaborate. Senator Lindsey Graham, Republican of South Carolina, also clashed with Mr. Shanahan in February over the planned troop withdrawal from Syria.

The inspector general’s office interviewed more than 30 witnesses, including senior officials and Mr. Shanahan himself, according to Dwrena Allen, a spokeswoman for the office. A Defense Department official said that Mr. Mattis was also interviewed.