Congress Weighs In

Some members of Congress see an opening to get more involved in the tanker acquisition now that the GAO has recommended that the KC-X award to Northrop Grumman be set aside because of Air Force contracting mistakes (see above). And the protectionist spirit appears to be high. Rep. Norman Dicks (D-Wash.), in whose state KC-767 bidder Boeing has a considerable presence, said that “it is now up to Congress to review the matter and to make its judgment” about how to replace the tanker fleet. Unsurprisingly, he feels that “we should proceed expeditiously to build the best aircraft—the Boeing KC-767—here at home.” Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.), another staunch Boeing support, said, “It is Congress’ job to determine whether major defense purchases meet the needs of our warfighter and deserve taxpayer funding. The Pentagon must both justify its decision [to buy the KC-30] and address the flawed process that led to today’s [GAO] ruling.” Murray said members of Congress have been “stonewalled” by the Pentagon in getting details of the tanker pick since Boeing’s protest was lodged in March. She said the GAO’s finding still didn’t address “key policy issues this contract raises—such as illegal subsidies, real-world operating costs, economic impacts, and the importance of maintaining our most critical advantage: innovation through American defense-oriented research and development.” Congress, she said, “needs answers before handing billions of American defense dollars to a subsidized, foreign company focused on dismantling the American aerospace industry.” Conversely, Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Ala.) in whose state Northrop Grumman and its principal subcontractor EADS North America would assemble the KC-45, said he “cannot believe that in the most highly scrutinized procurement in the history of the United States Air Force, the GAO found so many errors.” He said the fact that the Air Force “will likely have to go back to square one on the warfighter’s number-one priority is very disturbing.”