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  • Last Days of the Tanker Mess
    Posted by John M. Doyle 4:20 PM on Sep 29, 2008

    Defense Secretary Robert Gates says he didn’t want to scrap plans to issue a revised RFP for the Air Force replacement tanker competition … but then he looked at the calendar and realized issuing new ground rules in the waning days of the Bush administration would have raised a lot of eyebrows.


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    At a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing this past week, Gates said it just wouldn’t “smell” right to approve a potentially hundred billion dollar contract opportunity “in the last day or two of being on the job.”

    After the Government Accountability Office found that the Air Force had erred in conducting the competition -- picking the Northrop Grumman-EADS team’s A330-200 over Boeing’s 767-200LRF -- Gates put the Pentagon’s acquisition chief, John Young, in charge of the competition.

    DOD and the Air Force had been planning to rapidly turn around a new competition by January before Gates decided against saddling the next administration with responsibility for -- but no say in -- requirements and evaluation criteria.

    Gates’ remarks at a hearing on Iraq and Afghanistan, were prompted by a question from Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Miss.) who said he was disappointed that the competition did not go forward. Sessions also said he heard from senior Pentagon officials that the Boeing offering would have cost 25 percent more than its rival.
    Gates did not address the cost differences, but before pulling the plug, he says he considered changing the competition’s ground rules to focus on which aircraft offered the best deal for the taxpayer. But he and other Pentagon officials knew that would mean changing the rules at the end of the game – seven years after the Air Force first proposed leasing tankers from Boeing.

    He hopes the next administration will move quickly on the tanker competition. And he has some advice for the next decision-making team:  establish minimum military requirements first, and then consider cost as the differentiator.

    But Gates does not think it’s a good idea to split the order between Boeing and the Northrop Grumman-EADS team, as some in industry have suggested. In a letter to House Armed Services Chairman Ike Skelton (D-Mo.) Gates said such a move would be too costly.

    Tags: ar99, Air Force, tanker

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