When Dwight Eisenhower asked Robert Chapman Sprague to serve as Under Secretary of the Air Force, the choice seemed a good one. A graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy (1920) and a Navy construction expert before he entered private business in 1926, Sprague had served on many a Government- industry committee, knew his way around a bureau. He bustled down to Washington a week before inauguration, spent more time learning his job than any other Defense Department nominee.

Then he ran head-on into the blowup over stock holdings. In an effort to comply with the conflict-of-interests law, he...

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