WASHINGTON -- Rep. Henry Waxman, chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform purports to be concerned about transparency and accountability in government contracting. It sounds great, but from all indications, this is just a public relations gimmick to justify going after American companies in the midst of a war.
This week, the liberal California congressman took Blackwater USA CEO Erik Prince to task over how the North Carolina-based company has carried out its State Department contracts in Iraq. The day after Prince testified, one of his civilian-piloted helicopters skillfully landed in a Baghdad street to medevac Poland's ambassador to Iraq, Edward Pietrzyk, after he was wounded by the blast of a roadside bomb. This lifesaving feat of airmanship earned no accolades from Waxman. If the Beverly Hills congressman really cared about government contracting, he would suspend his vendetta against Blackwater long enough to look into another looming contract controversy that could well cost Americans jobs, billions of dollars and, eventually, lives.
The top procurement priority for the U.S. Air Force isn't a stealth fighter or a new long-range bomber; it's a mundane aircraft, without which these combat planes are virtually useless. It's an aerial refueler -- dubbed the KC-X -- designed to replace more than 500, half-century-old KC-135 Stratotankers, based on Boeing's antique 707 commercial airframe. Air Force Secretary Michael Wynne says that by the end of the year, his service will decide between two competing bids from Boeing and Airbus for the first 179 new tankers, priced at $40 billion over 15 years.
On the surface, all this sounds fair enough. Competition, particularly for lucrative defense contracts, is supposed to keep costs down. On a level playing field, competition in a fair market should give taxpayers more bang for the buck. Unfortunately, in the case of the KC-X, the playing field may not be level, and the airspace is full of headwinds.
Though the competing aircraft are both based on commercial airframes -- Boeing's 767 and the Airbus A330 -- their tanker variants are hardly similar. Boeing's KC-767 has a smaller payload than the Airbus KC-30, but it uses a ton less fuel per flight hour and requires shorter fields for takeoffs and landings -- meaning the Boeing bird can land in more places -- a major factor in today's troubled world. However, these operational disparities pale in comparison to the problems the Air Force may inherit by tying itself to Airbus and its deeply troubled parent company, the European Aeronautic Defence and Space Company.
Oliver North is a nationally syndicated columnist, the host of War Stories on the Fox News Channel, the author of the new novel Heroes Proved and the co-founder of Freedom Alliance, an organization that provides college scholarships to the children of U.S. military personnel killed or permanently disabled in the line of duty. Join Oliver North in Israel by going to www.olivernorthisrael.com.