The Ongoing Tanker Saga | Citizens Against Government Waste

The Ongoing Tanker Saga

The WasteWatcher

The long saga of the Air Force refueling tanker may be coming to an end soon; or maybe not.  The latest request for proposal is due to be released shortly, and hearings this week on Capitol Hill indicate the battle may not be over.

The tanker fight began in 2003, when the Department of Defense (DoD) nearly awarded Boeing a $23.5 billion sole-source contract through a series of appropriations earmarks.  After the idea was rejected, a senior Boeing official and a top Pentagon procurement officer both went to jail as a result of a bribery scheme.

In 2008, the Air Force awarded the tanker contract to Northrop Grumman, following a procurement process that the Pentagon described as one of the most thorough in its history.  That award was overturned by the Government Accountability Office as favoring the larger plane being proposed by Northrop over Boeing’s smaller version.  Now, supporters of Northrop’s design are crying foul at the Air Force’s latest RFP, which they describe as favoring Boeing over Northrop.  The latter has threatened to pull out of the competition if it does not like the final proposal.  Ironically, that could lead to the same result that was rejected by Congress in 2003 – a sole source contract awarded to Boeing.

Reactions from February 24, 2010 hearing on Capitol Hill ran the gambit of predictable responses; Northrop Grumman supporters expressed doubts, and Boeing backers conveyed satisfaction.  In a February 24, 2010 article appearing in Congress Daily, Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Ala.) labeled the latest RFP “an illusion of a fair competition in which the war-fighter and the taxpayer lose.”  Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) claimed the ongoing tanker contract issue means “The integrity of the Department of Defense is at stake.”  On the flip side of the coin, Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) expressed confidence in Boeing’s chances.  In a February 24, 2010 statement released on her website, Sen. Murray asserted, “Given a fair shot, Washington state’s workers will bring home this contract.”

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), whose investigation in 2003 helped to overturn the original Boeing deal, said he will remain vigilant in his ongoing efforts to protect the taxpayers’ money.  In a February 24, 2010 article appearing in The Hill, McCain stated, “It is the beginning of a long process. We are going to monitor it carefully.”

In the meantime, Pentagon officials are urging Northrop Grumman to stay in the bidding process, but are making every effort to avoid favoring either company.  As Lieutenant General Mark Shackelford, the military deputy in charge of Air Force acquisition stated in a Reuters article on February 18, 2010, “We can’t force them to compete, nor are we willing to make a change in the process solely to their advantage.  That’s part of the walk-down-the-middle philosophy.”

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