Field Trip

Several weeks ago, Air Force Secretary Michael Donley took a team of service acquisition specialists over to the offices of the Government Accountability Office to meet with some of the legal officials who review USAF files when contract awards are protested by industry. “We had a good sit-down, face-to-face discussion,” said Donley during a Nov. 12 speech at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, D.C. “Without speaking for GAO, one of their senior folks sort of said, ‘Your system is not broken,’” he noted. These words must have sounded a soothing note to the ears of the Air Force representatives after the service’s much-publicized problems on several of its highest priority, big-ticket recapitalization programs, like the KC-X aerial tanker and CSAR-X rescue helicopter. Donley made the point that “the vast majority” of the Air Force’s acquisition decisions “remains untainted” by protests and successful appeals by losing industry bidders. Accordingly, he said, “the acquisition system continues to work in a way that we think, overall, provides confidence to the American people.” But as the value of contracts increase, “there seems to be a little bit more incentive for contractors to appeal,” he noted. And when the decision goes against the Air Force, “it ends up being a very high-visibility decision that undercuts the credibility” of the service’s work in overseeing the many thousands of contracts that are progressing smoothly, he said.