Methinks You Protest Too Much

Even though the number of protests sustained against Air Force contract awards is “pretty low,” the service wants contractors to think more than twice about lodging a protest unless they’ve got a real good reason. “I want them to have some skin in the game,” Air Force uniformed acquisition chief Lt. Gen. Arnold Bunch said at a McAleese/Credit Suisse conference in Washington Wednesday. Bunch said accelerating acquisition is critical because USAF adversaries are “nipping at our heels or side-by-side with us” in technology. However, a protest can shut a needed program down for months or longer, causing a “delay in getting it to the field” and keeping it “out of the hands” of the operators who need it. It happened with the B-21 bomber and the KC-46 tanker, two of USAF’s top three programs, but there are almost no drawbacks to a protest, other than the cost of the lawyers. Bunch said he’d like to force protesters who don’t succeed to bear the costs of investigating and evaluating the complaint. “I want them … to pay a price,” and thus be deterred from protesting unless their case seems airtight. Bunch acknowledged that this change would require legislation, and it’s a “windmill” at which he’s been tilting for some time.