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By Nick Wakeman

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A bad day for Air Force procurement

I wouldn't want to have been at the Air Force's acquisition office yesterday.

After the Darleen Druyun scandal and the pressure from Sen. John McCain, you would think that the Air Force would have bent over backwards to make the tanker procurement fair and above board. It should have been impervious to attack.

But the scrutiny might have pushed them too far the other way because there may have been a perception that Boeing went into the competition with an advantage. Maybe in trying to counteract that, the Air Force gave the EADS-Northrop Grumman team the advantage.

That's the sense I get from GAO's press release.

Your read those seven counts and you wonder, what was going on? For example, in count No. 4, GAO says the Air Force misled Boeing telling them they met a key performance measure, but later changed their mind. But they never told Boeing.

I know this isn't an information technology contract, and I know I don't want to get into covering the aerospace industry. But my question is what lessons are here for other contractors? What impact will this have? Will agencies be even more risk adverse? Will companies be more apt to protest?

Post your comments here or send me your thoughts at nwakeman@1105govinfo.com and I'll post them for you.

Posted by Nick Wakeman on Jun 19, 2008 at 9:55 AM

Reader Comments

Thu, Jul 3, 2008 Guy Timberlake MD

Nick,I'm at odds over this decision in that I want to believe that the AF performed diligently in this acquisition especially given the criticality of the end product to our national security and defense. But the fact that GAO overturned it also makes one wonder how much of this is political versus actual fact-based decision (previous posters have already chimed in on this).I remember seeing Sue Payton testify, pretty much giving Members of the House fits by saying her organization made the decision the laws they passed allowed the AF to make.At the end of the day, we need to get our AF new equipment and that needs to be Job One!Keep up the great work and Happy Fourth Nick!Guy

Mon, Jun 23, 2008 Samuel Kahn ARLINGTON VA

As a retired DOD Engineer, I was involved in many procurement actions. If Uncle wants to avoid the so called blunders on all procurement actions then there is a very modest and easy solution. "GET THE POLITICITIONS OUT OF PROCUREMENT" I was employed by "UNCLE" for slightly more than 50 years. I knew a lot of Procurement Officers and the "DEBACLE" that has been occuring would have occured

Mon, Jun 23, 2008 Terry Wright CHANTILLY VA

I believe we have come to experience the evil President Eisenhower warned us against--the Defense-Industrial complex has woven its web of highly networked 'old boys' and that other evil -- the love of money -- has supplanted any semblance of fair and open competition. This is not to say that the choice of NG/EDS over Boeing was wrong -- it may indeed be the best value award for the USAF -- however the process used getting to the award is most certainly flawed and highly tarnished.Hardware acquisitions, such as the tanker, should be purely design/build/test competitions. The government should let a proposal with the requirements (no mid-course changes allowed), select the top 2 or 3, ante up half the development costs (the competitors need to feel the pain but, it is a limited market product) and have a genuine nose-to-nose test, in this case a fly-off under actual conditions. The government should then host demonstrations of the runner up products with allied forces to help market them to other governments and make the competitors investment worthwhile. In the end, likely all competitors will find buyers interested in their product and make the whole process more palatable than the current winner take all philosophy and cut-throat competition.

Mon, Jun 23, 2008 Nick Wakeman VA

Interesting comment. Hopefully some others will add to the debate.

Mon, Jun 23, 2008 john gruehl VA

The GAO press release points to yet another example of officialdom acting in an environment of arrogance. The whole record, once redacted and released, may tell another story but that is highly doubtful. Others who follow such decisions report that the scathing wording is highly unusual for GAO; that alone is a powerful datapoint. Procurement is based on the rule of law, voluminous policy publications, specific regulations, and the instant RFP that provides the subset of rules writ large to be used in making an open, transparent, and correct source selection decision. This then, is the question: was this the latest example of the Abilene Paradox or were the Air Force officials in charge of this procurement just plain arrogant and arbitrarily decided to ignore their own rules?"

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