From the Mobile Press-Register yesterday, about the much-fought-over contract for a desperately needed new Air Force tanker, in light of a visit there today by Defense Appropriations Chairman John Murtha:
Murtha has emerged as the leading proponent of a compromise that would divide the contract between the two manufacturing teams. Murtha and other officials have said that a “dual buy” might be the only practical way to avoid litigation and other protests that could further delay the contract.
“The Air Force will have no choice but to split the … tanker award between rivals Boeing and Northrop Grumman-EADS if it wants to receive a new tanker anytime soon,” Murtha told Inside the Air Force, a military trade publication, in an article published in September.
Gates said he adamantly opposes a split deal, warning it would come at a high cost to taxpayers with no justifiable benefit to the Air Force. He told lawmakers Tuesday that any move to split the contract would be “an absolutely terrible idea and a very bad mistake for the Air Force.” Boeing and its legislative backers have also vowed to fight any attempt to buy two different planes.
I will say it as plainly as possible: I don’t trust Gates on this. I do not think he is impartial on this. I see him with his home for retirement already sitting there in the Seattle area (traditional corporate HQ for Boeing and still site of huge Boeing installations), and with one of his children living and working in the Seattle area and another one with longstanding ties to the area. I watched as he pulled the rug out from under the previous contract award to Northrup/EADS and from the fast-track post-appeal reconsideration of the award — a reconsideration Boeing was so sure it would lose again that it threatened to pull out altogether — and I watched as that very night Pentagon brass wined and dined at the Boeing table for a gala celebration.
Now I see somebody as experienced as Murtha, with no real dog in the fight but a real record (whatever else you think of him) of wanting to get good equipment to our military personnel, saying that it makes good sense to split the contract. And I am told that a split contract could be awarded as early as late spring, whereas the full new competition Gates wants will put off the award until next year at the very earliest. Yet Gates insists that a split award isn’t doable, offering utter tommyrot about increased costs and additional training. The “increased costs” idea is an utter red herring, though, because part of the benefit of competition is that it keeps BOTH companies’ feet to the fire to do the job efficiently and well, in light of the fact that this first award is only for 68 planes of a first batch of 179, witha total of 510 eventually needed. In short, a split contract would give both companies an incentive to keep cost down and performance up in order to better position themselves for much bigger awards for the same fleet of planes down the road.
But no — Gates says he won’t consider a split award. Isn’t it funny how Gates was the only Cabinet member kept around by the incredibly Boeing-friendly Obamites? Isn’t it funny that Gates himself has so many ties to Boeing-heavy Seattle? Isn’t it funny that the new National Security Advisor, James Jones, was on Boeing’s board until mid-December?
In Gates’ obstinance against a split award, I smell a rat. I call on John McCain to investigate.