Back to the Drawing Board

The Government Accountability Office yesterday (June 18) recommended that the Air Force throw out its selection of the KC-45 aerial tanker contract to Northrop Grumman and seek revised proposals from that company and Boeing, which protested the choice in early March. The GAO cited seven “significant errors” in the Air Force’s handling of the $40 billion contract award and determined it would be unfair to let the award stand. “We recommend that the Air Force reopen discussions with the offerors, obtain revised proposals, re-evaluate the revised proposals, and make a new source-selection decision,” the GAO said in a three-page release articulating its ruling. Furthermore, it said the Air Force should pay Boeing’s legal and administrative costs in bringing the protest—potentially tens of millions of dollars. The GAO suggested that if the Air Force doesn’t think the original solicitation “adequately” states the service’s needs, it should re-write the document prior to beginning new talks with the two competitors. A similar ruling in the Air Force’s combat search and rescue helicopter competition has led to a two-year litigation delay in getting that program under contract, suggesting that the launch of the tanker program could be delayed at least that long, as well. A GAO official told the Daily Report that the recommendations do not suggest that the Air Force “start over,” that is open the competition to other bidders, but rather refine the way that it asks for information and evaluates the answers it gets. The GAO said that it also denied some of Boeing’s complaints—without saying which ones—because records failed to show that the Air Force had done anything wrong “with respect to those challenges.” Further, the agency pointed out that its ruling shouldn’t be construed as a comment on the relative merits either of Boeing’s KC-767 or Northrop Grumman’s KC-30 tanker models. The GAO’s decisions focused only on the process.