Saturday, August 09, 2008

Does DoD want to get the tanker aircraft contract right?

I have never been one of the "Boeing was robbed" people. I am a "true believer." I figure you make the rules clear then call the game and that's it - fair is fair. But more and more analysts are saying the Pentagon changed the rules and effectively "single-sourced" the tanker contract to the more expensive, but not more capable aircraft - the Airbus supported by the governments if Europe. Merrill Cook at National Review Online:
A recent report by the independent Government Accountability Office (GAO) devastatingly critiques one of the Pentagon’s critical procurement processes. The July 2008 report demonstrates that the government botched contracts for an urgently needed new generation of aerial refueling tankers not just once, but twice. With years of delay and billions in budget overruns in many of the Department of Defense’s top programs, many observers are asking just how deep the Pentagon’s procurement problems run. They want to know what the Pentagon’s new chief, Defense Secretary Robert Gates, will do about it. The problems have been building for years. DOD has allowed squabbles between defense contractors to maroon several key acquisition priorities into a bureaucratic no-man’s land. This at a time the armed forces are in great need of quick turnarounds on life-saving systems like the armored MRAP vehicles for troops patrolling dangerous streets in Iraq. Unfortunately, few in Washington seem to have learned the lessons of past procurement mistakes. Exhibit A: The Pentagon is trying for the third time to complete a fair competition for a $35 billion contract to replace our fleet of tanker-refueling aircraft. These are the oldest aircraft still flying, and some date back to the Eisenhower administration. Few question that they pose a serious safety threat to pilots. Woeful mismanagement of a sole-source contract hamstrung the first control, while the Government Accountability Office (GAO) rejected the second as an obsequious effort to award Northrop Grumman and EADS — a subsidized European contractor under criminal investigation — a lucrative defense contract for a more expensive and less capable tanker aircraft. Now under the gun from Congress to produce quick results, Gates has promised that he and his deputy, Undersecretary John Young, will personally oversee the new tanker competition. But instead of simply re-evaluating the previous competition’s bids according to the rules, the Defense Department seems to be engaging smoke-and-mirrors tactics....
The original report is at GAO.

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