Air Force Expects To Award Tanker Contract This Month

February 15th, 2008  
Team Infidel

Topic: Air Force Expects To Award Tanker Contract This Month

Seattle Post-Intelligencer
February 15, 2008 By Eric Rosenberg, Hearst Newspapers
WASHINGTON -- A top Air Force official indicated Thursday that the service will award its multibillion-dollar contract to build new aerial tankers by the end of February.
Kenneth Miller, the Air Force's special assistant for acquisition governance, told reporters that the service expects to make its decision public within a day or two of a top-level Pentagon meeting, now scheduled for Feb. 25.
The Boeing Co. is competing against a team of Airbus-parent EADS and Northrop Grumman Corp. to produce a new Air Force aerial tanker, dubbed the KC-X, a contract that could grow to $100 billion.
Meanwhile, a key senator said he hoped that the losing bidder wouldn't file a legal protest that would further delay the tanker program.
Miller said the Air Force "is going through the final rigors of the selection process. That is ongoing right now. We are looking at the bidders' final proposals and going through detailed evaluations, where we will come up with a recommendation."
In an earlier interview, Lt. Gen. Donald Hoffman, the top uniformed acquisition official in the Air Force, said it "is our hope" that the service will select the winner shortly after the meeting.
That meeting is the final bureaucratic wicket -- a session of the Defense Acquisition Board in which senior civilians and military officers are expected to give final approval to the plan, a step that would then enable the Air Force to announce the winner.
The Air Force had hoped to announce the winner by the end of December but has pushed back the decision a number of times, most recently to January and then to February. The decision might be pushed back still further, but Miller said the service believes it will be able to make its selection public by the end of the month.
Air Force officials have said the selection will come down to which tanker proposal best meets five broad criteria: mission capability, proposal risk, cost and price, past performance and aircraft design characteristics such as tanker fuel capacity, takeoff performance and fuel consumption.
The service also has said that the lowest-cost design won't necessarily win the contract. That's because military contractors frequently offer a low price up front only to sock the government later with huge overruns.
Miller spoke during a meeting of the so-called Senate Tanker Caucus, composed of 12 senators from both political parties who have pressed the Air Force to award the contract as soon as possible because the present fleet of tanker jets is so old.
Sen. Kent Conrad, D-N.D., chairman of the caucus and of the Senate Budget Committee, asked Boeing and the Northrop Grumman/EADS team to respect the Air Force's selection and not protest the award.
Federal law allows losing bidders to appeal to the Government Accountability Office if they believe a federal agency violated procurement rules when it awards a contract.
A protest would delay the program while the GAO investigated the Air Force process that led to selecting the winning bidder.
Any decision by the GAO upholding the protest could require the Air Force to start all over again with new contract bids.
Such a delay would make the Air Force extremely unhappy because the service contends that it urgently needs to start work on the KC-X, given that the existing tanker fleet of KC-135s is 46 years old, on average.
Both bidders have declined to discuss what they would do, if anything, if they lost the tanker contract.
"We strongly encourage both bidders to respect the Air Force decision as final," Conrad said. "It is essential that we move forward quickly and have no further delay."

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