Hugh Hewitt’s March 20 op-ed, “What Do Voters Think?” concludes that voters will rise in indignation over the Air Force’s decision to award a $35 billion contract to Northrop Grumman rather than Boeing for the KC-45A tanker. He seems to forget that the reason the Air Force even held a competitive bidding process for the tankers was outrage from across the country over the original earmark for a new tanker lease that was tucked into the 2003 Defense Appropriations Act conference report by Senator Ted Stevens (R-Alaska), without any hearings or opportunity for debate, in order to help subsidize Boeing’s 767 production line.
Mr. Hewitt seems to believe that the same factors that led to objections over the Dubai ports deal apply to the tankers, but they are separate matters. The original tanker deal was the most expensive earmark in history and corporate welfare of the worst kind. Originally thought to be just a bad deal for taxpayers because it was a no-bid lease, it turned out to be much more. The deal led to a major scandal. There were guilty pleas and jail time for both the Air Force’s chief negotiator on the contract and Boeing’s number-two corporate officer, and Boeing was fined more than $600 million.
According to the Air Force’s analysis of the proposals by Boeing and Northrop Grumman, the winning plane was better than the loser in four out of five major criteria. With the benefit of competition, the Air Force was able to drive down cost and, apparently, found the best aircraft at the best price. If the Government Accountability Office delivers a clean bill of health for process, rejects Boeing’s protest, and allows the contract to stand, Congress should not intervene to change the result.
Members of Congress are trying to turn the decision into a matter of national security, but it really is all about jobs. Members from Washington and Kansas are particularly incensed about the decision, because that is where Boeing has facilities. Those in Alabama and other states that will benefit from Northrop’s construction are pleased to have the business. While some say 40,000 jobs would have been provided by Boeing, it is disingenuous and inaccurate to say all of them would be “exported,” as Democratic National Committee Chairman Howard Dean told CNN on March 13. Indeed, on March 12, ABC News reported that Northrop was planning to create 48,000 U.S. jobs.