Opinion: Richard Shelby and the Northrop-Boeing tanker war


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U.S. Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Ala.) today ... :

Sen. Shelby has placed holds on several pending nominees due to unaddressed national security concerns. Among his concerns is that nearly 10 years after the U.S. Air Force announced plans to replace the aging tanker fleet, we still do not have a transparent and fair acquisition process to move forward. The Department of Defense must recognize that the draft Request for Proposal needs to be significantly and substantively changed. Sen. Shelby is also deeply concerned that the Administration will not release the funds already appropriated to the FBI to build the Terrorist Explosives Devices Analytical Center.
... And, as noted by the Washington Post’s Ezra Klein, when George W. Bush was president: I do not think that any of us want to operate in an environment where federal judicial nominees must receive 60 votes in order to be confirmed. To that end I firmly support changing the Senate rules to require that a simple majority be necessary to confirm all judicial nominees, thus ending the continuous filibuster of them.
The tanker purchases and new FBI center could benefit Shelby’s state enormously, so the fact that his extraordinary action isn’t at all based on principle does not surprise me. What’s really perplexing is how he could think that going to such lengths to assist Northrop Grumman Corp. and European aerospace giant European Aeronautic Defense & Space Co., who would conduct major assembly of their A330-based aerial refueling tanker in Alabama, would actually help their chances of winning the contract.


Boeing Co. successfully challenged the Air Force’s decision in 2008 to award the $40-billion deal to the Northrop-EADS team partly because of allegations that changes made to the evaluation criteria during the bidding process benefited the winners. Shelby is now asking the Air Force to ‘significantly and substantially’ alter the tanker RFP draft in favor of Northrop-EADS. Should Shelby get his wish and if the Northrop-EADS team wins the contract (which I don’t think will happen, as a split buy or outright Boeing win seem like the only viable options), you can bet Boeing would file another protest.

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-- Paul Thornton