Alabama Senators try to sway tanker bidding
Alabama Senators Richard Shelby and Jeff Sessions both this week lodged complaints over the way the Pentagon proposes to decide between competing Boeing and Airbus aerial refueling tankers.
The Pentagon proposes judging the competing bids on 373 criteria, with price being an important factor. Impartial observers, such as The New York Times, say the proposed process for this third round of tanker competition is “complicated” but seemingly “sound and far less vulnerable to abuse.”
But the two Alabama Republicans say the latest proposal unfairly favors Boeing. Specifically, both are complaining that the Air Force gave Boeing price data from the joint bid Airbus and Northrop Grumman submitted in 2008. The Airbus/Northrop team was the winning bidder in that round, and the Air Force routinely shares price information from the winning bid with companies who lose.
The decision to buy Airbus tankers for the Air Force was later overturned, after Congressional auditors determined that the Air Force had broken its own rules in deciding to pick the plane.
The Airbus team and its political suppoters want Team Toulouse and its Mobile Minions to be able to see the price details from Boeing’s failed 2008 bid. Sessions, in fact, went so far as to insert language into the Senate Defense spending bill that would have blocked all spending for any new tankers unless this happens — although his fellow senators didn’t go along with him.
This, of course, would have meant yet another politically motivated delay to a decision on how to replace the 50-year-old KC-135s that the Air Force now operates. But Shelby said it was the Pentagon that was playing that game, accusing Defense Secretary Robert Gates of having “placed politics and business interests over the interests of the warfighter.”
Meanwhile, conservative media outlets like the American Spectator are chiming in, claiming that because Gates owns a home near Mount Vernon, he’s biased in favor of Boeing. This kind of outrageous criticism is going to make it hard for the Pentagon to make a truly unbiased selection, the Los Angeles Times reported.
In general, District 751 supports the Pentagon’s latest plan, although we would have preferred to see penalties against the Airbus bid to reflect the recent World Trade Organization ruling that Airbus’ parent company — EADS — had benefitted from illegal European government support. We also would have liked to have American job-creation be one of the criteria, given that we as a nation are trying to claw our way out of the most-serious recession in 75 years.
On balance, we feel that Boeing’s plan for using a proven, experienced workforce in an existing factory, supported by a network of established suppliers makes far more sense than the Airbus/Northrop Grumman proposal, which involves inventing an entirely new kind of trans-Atlantic manufacturing process for their proposed KC-30 jet, using a brand new joint venture to assemble European jets in an American factory that has not been built, with a workforce that has not been hired, let alone trained.
Boeing’s bid also has been endorsed by AFL-CIO leaders in 10 states, including Washington State Labor Council president Rick Bender. Awarding the largest single military contract to the EADS-Northrop Grumman partnership would not only be counterproductive to efforts to revive America’s economy, it also would jeopardize the U.S. industrial base and risk our security by giving EADS and all of its foreign suppliers the technological specifications of every military plane that the tankers refuel, Bender and the other labor leaders wrote in a letter to Gates.
Boeing has a Web site where it outlines the benefits of its tanker proposals.