A New Tanker Wrinkle?

Two of the lawmakers intent on overturning USAF’s selection of the Northrop Grumman-EADS tanker over the Boeing model now want to know why the Air Force did not consider additional military construction as part of its source selection process. In a May 19 letter to Air Force acquisition chief Sue Payton, Rep. Todd Tiahrt (R-Kan.) and Rep. Norm Dicks (D-Wash.) state that the competition “failed to accurately assess the true cost of the two proposals” in “at least one critical area—military construction.” They could have a point, if true, because both candidate aircraft are larger than the current KC-135 and the Northrop tanker is considerably larger. They base their claim on recent testimony during a Senate Appropriations military construction panel hearing, in which Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) elicited the news that the installations portion of the Air Force had not yet considered the cost of such things as the construction or modification of hangars and ramps or reinforcing runways. However, later in response to Sen. Sam Brownback (R-Kan.), Kathleen Ferguson, deputy assistant secretary for installations, stated that the Milcon consideration was “part of the source selection evaluation. It was just done by a different group than the three [witnesses].” The Air National Guard representative at the hearing, Brig. Gen. Stanley Clarke III, ANG deputy director, acknowledged that the Air Guard had done no physical assessment but added that one would be done when the Air Force determines beddown locations. That would be too late, according to Tiahrt and Dicks, who write, “Without specific data for individual installations it is impossible to accurately assess the true cost differential.” They ask for an independent cost estimate. Meanwhile, the Government Accountability Office expects to render a decision on the Boeing protest in mid-June.