Thu, Oct 23, 2003
After a flurry of press releases and a lot of Capitol Hill
arm-twisting by the Air Force (and presumably Boeing lobbyists) all
Summer, and a flurry of GAO reports that question the
methodology of the scheme, the Air Force on Friday made a heavy
appeal to Congress to get the KC-767A (767-based tanker) deal approved.
Senator John McCain, who has been skeptical of the leasing plan
-- or even the need for fleet replacement -- from the start, now
wants Joshua Bolten, Director of the White House Office of
Management and Budget, to submit, in writing, the reasons why the
proposed deal doesn't square with the OMB's guidelines -- or why it
shouldn't have to.
The controversy runs on two levels: until Boeing's financials
looked so really lousy (in the post-September 11 era), the Air
Force didn't have any urgent complaints about its old, but
little-used tanker fleet. In report after request, the Air Force's
"need for new tankers" wasn't up there on the list of "things we
really need." That changed recently; and -- surprise -- Boeing (the
logical choice, at any rate) just happened to have a 767-based
tanker design... almost ready to go.
The other level has to do with how the Air Force wants to pay
for the new birds, and how much of our money they're going to use,
to do just that. The price looks steep to many; and beyond that,
there's a really sweet leasing deal, that's even more expensive
(and more-expensive yet, the more information gets out). Though
there is a "price-protection" clause worked in, it's effective only
if Boeing sells similar aircraft to somebody else, for a lower
price. Just who would be bidding, and who would be allowed to take
delivery -- is a matter for not much conjecture.
At any rate, the OMB has until Tuesday to spin this deal into
something that at least looks legit. McCain's Senate Armed Services
Committee is the last of four legislative panels that needs to
approve the deal; and, assuming the spin can't cover the
"interesting" aspects of the deal, McCain's doggedness may yet save
the taxpayers a few dozen million dollars.
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