While the GAO is still reviewing the Northrop-Grumman tanker deal, opponents of the contract are already plotting their next move.
Aviation Week reports that Washington Congressman Norman Dicks is working with Pennsylvania's John Murtha on legislation that would prevent the Air Force from awarding the tanker contract to Northrop-Grumman and its European partner, EADS.
The Government Accountability Office has been scrutinizing the contract since February, when rival Boeing filed a formal protest. GAO officials are expected to release their recommendations later this week. Since the Air Force falls under the executive branch--and the GAO reports to Congress--the service isn't required to follow the recommendations of the watchdog agency. But with its legislative bosses controlling military budgets, the USAF will accept the GAO's findings.
At this point, it's unclear if the agency will uphold the original contract, or recommend re-opening the project for new bids.
But Mr. Dicks (and other Boeing supporters) aren't waiting for the GAO to release its recommendations. If the agency validates the original deal, they will try to amend a defense spending bill, and effectively will block the contract.
But "no matter what happens with the GAO, if it doesn't stop this, Congress has a responsibility to review this," Dicks told AVIATION WEEK after a House Aerospace Caucus luncheon June 12. "We're going to take whatever action we have to take."
Dicks said some estimates have put the total lifecycle costs for the Northrop/EADS KC-45 tanker at $50 billion higher than Boeing's proposed KC-767. He complained that the acquisition process was not transparent and the Air Force misled Congress about how it evaluated the proposals (Aerospace DAILY, March 12). He and other lawmakers opposing the Northrop-EADS win have discussed trying to halt the award for months (Aerospace DAILY, April 29)."The more I get into this, the angrier I get," Dicks said.
Mr. Dicks' legislative plans are evidence that the tanker battle will continue for months after the GAO decision. General Norton Schwartz, who has been nominated as the next Air Force Chief of Staff will face a full plate of critical issues when he (presumably) takes the job later this year. But none are more important than the tanker deal. General Schwartz's ability to get a tanker contract through Congress will be one of the defining issues of his tenure.