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Senator Cantwell demanding answers in tanker competition after latest Air Force blunder

Photo by Bellamy Pailthorp
U.S. Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., (right) talks with Boeing 767 employees Anna Karsky (left) and Maeghan Smith Hudon below the wing of a 767 at Boeing's plant in Everett.

US Senator Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) says the US Air Force contract for the next generation of refueling tankers should not be awarded until questions are answered about the military's latest snafu. 

A decision on who wins the $35-billion contract is expected as early as next month. 

In November, the Air Force admitted that it had inadvertently mixed up two packages of information. It sent details of Boeing's bid to Airbus-parent EADS and of EADS's bid to Boeing.

On Thursday, Senator Cantwell  toured the 767 line where Boeing's NewGen tanker would be built if it wins.  Then she called for answers. 

"We're actually here today to put the Air Force on notice," Cantwell said.  She says the Air Force cannot just gloss over the incident by calling it a clerical error.

"We know now from information from the Air Force that Boeing did not look at the disc information given to them, but Airbus did."

After the information was leaked, analysts said it appeared EADS had the bid that would more likely win.

The Senator said she is demanding an investigation of what Airbus did with that information, and whether that allowed them to make an adjustment for their best and final offer.

If so, Cantwell says the Air Force should stop the current process and start over.  The answers should come from a hearing of the Senate Armed Services Committee slated to take place before the end of the month.  Cantwell demanded it take place.  She says she has submitted a letter the committee's chairman, Carl Levin (D-Mich.), outlining the questions she hopes will be addressed.  Among them:

  • What steps were taken to ensure EADS did not gain an unfair competitive advantage by having Boeing data for more than a month before the investigation was completed by the Air Force?
  • What did the Air Force’s forensic analysis show?
  • Were each company’s actions consistent with ethics rules, standards and practices described in the Air Force’s ethics briefing each bidder received?
  • Will the data release compromise the part of the bidding process that includes the three adjustments to price? 
  •  If so, what does this means for the competition?

Cantwell says about 50,000 jobs in the US are at stake – and as many as 9,000 of those are in Washington.
“With the Air Force expected to announce a tanker competition winner as early as February, we are hoping this upcoming Senate hearing will prevent them from making a $35 billion mistake,” she said in a statement.  “Not only is this tanker bid crucial to our national security, it is one of the Defense Department’s largest acquisitions ever, so it’s crucial we get it right."

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