Says Capabilities -- Not Jobs -- Should Decide Winner
Defense Secretary Robert Gates gave lawmakers strict
instructions this week regarding the hotly-contested KC-X US Air
Force tanker contract: don't listen to statements from either side
noting how many US jobs might be created.
The Seattle Post-Intelligencer reports Gates, in testimony
before the Senate defense appropriations subcommittee, also
cautioned lawmakers from taking action to limit the ability of
foreign companies to bid on US defense projects -- as has been
suggested by some in the wake of the Air Force's selection of an
Airbus-sourced plane to handle future aerial refueling duties for
the Air Force.
As ANN reported, on February
29 the USAF selected the KC-45A, offered by a partnership between
EADS and Northrop Grumman, over Boeing's KC-767. Boeing has
protested the contract award to the Government Accountability
Office; several lawmakers have also come out in favor of the 'home
team,' and some have threatened measures to curb foreign companies
from bidding on US defense work.
Bad move, says Gates... as such protectionist attitudes swing
both ways, and could harm American contractors bidding on work
"The law is very explicit, as I understand, that we cannot look
at anything else" when awarding contracts, Gates said, except
technology, cost and capability. In other words, what product best
suits the service's needs.
"So the only way to correct that would be to change the law,"
Gates continued. "But my only caution in changing the law is that
all of our companies sell a lot of equipment to other countries,
and so I think we need to be very careful about how we limit access
and bidding and the criteria we take into account, because what we
gain over here we may lose over there."
In statements intended to sway support from lawmakers, military
wonks, and the general public, both Northrop/EADS and Boeing have
stressed how many new US jobs would be created by their respective
In particular, Northrop says its KC-45A would "generate
approximately 48,000 new direct and indirect jobs in the United
States," according to spokesman Randy Belote. Most of those jobs
would come from the new plant in Mobile, AL tasked with outfitting
the KC-45A, as well as Airbus' upcoming A330-200 Freighter.
Boeing supporters -- including Senator Patty Murray, who
represents Boeing's home state of Washington -- counter most work
on the KC-45A will benefit the overseas workers actually building
the plane. That's why, in Murray's words, Congress has "the duty to
do what the Department of Defense can't do" by considering
additional factors in selecting companies to handle defense-related
work... including concerns about sharing US technology.
"We have to look at the long-term security implications, and we
have to look at how this affects our industrial base and
capability," Murray said.
The GAO is scheduled to rule next month on whether Boeing's
protest of KC-X is valid.