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(Washington D.C.) – Today, U.S. Senator Patty Murray (D-WA) delivered a speech on the Senate floor that discussed the need for Congress to look at the very serious issues surrounding the Air Force's decision to award a $35 billion aerial refueling contract to the foreign owned and subsidized company Airbus. Senator Murray's speech focused on the fact that Congress and the American people deserve answers on questions on subsidies, real world operating costs, economic impacts, military construction needs, jobs and national security.

Senator Murray reiterated that while the Government Accountability Office (GAO) is limited to examining whether the Air Force violated its procurement law – a very technical and narrow scope - Congress has a much wider purview.  The GAO is expected to deliver a decision on whether the Air Force followed the letter of their procurement law in the near future.

The full text of Senator Murray's speech follows:

Mrs. President, within the next several days, the Government Accountability Office will issue a ruling on that decision – it is Boeing’s first protest of a defense contract in three decades.

Boeing is challenging the Air Force’s choice to award a $35 billion contract to supply our military’s next generation of aerial refueling tankers to the European company, Airbus.

We’re all awaiting the GAO’s ruling because it’s clear there were major flaws in this contract.

Ever since the Air Force announced in February that it had awarded this contract to Airbus, it has insisted that it made no mistakes and that the Airbus tanker cost less.  Yet we’ve already learned that’s not true.

Last week, the Air Force admitted to making a critical error when it calculated the operating costs of the two tankers.  It’s now acknowledging that the Airbus plane actually costs tens of millions of dollars more. Now, that news isn’t surprising.  But it is further evidence that we need more answers from the Pentagon before we allow this contract to become a reality. And that’s why I’ve come to the floor today.

Mrs. President, while the GAO decision is important – it won’t even come close to addressing all of the questions that have been raised about this contract. And that’s because the GAO’s role in this process is very limited. It can examine whether the Air Force followed the letter of the law in the selection process.  But it can’t look at anything beyond that. So even if it’s obvious that the Airbus tanker costs more, is less safe, or doesn’t meet the Air Force’s needs the GAO can’t take any action. That is Congress’s job. We must get answers to the questions that have been raised about this deal.

This is one of the largest contracts in history, and it’s incredibly important.  Our tankers refuel planes and aircraft from every single branch of our military.  As long as we control the technology to build them, we control our skies and our security. We must make sure we are making the best decision for our taxpayers and our service members.

The Air Force has Refused to Explain

Mrs. President, I’m especially concerned because when you compare Boeing’s 767 with Airbus’s A-330, the 767 is clearly the better plane. 

Compared to the 767, the Airbus tanker is much larger, less efficient, and more expensive to operate.  And according to the Air Force itself, the A-330 ranked lower than the 767 in survivability – the ability to keep the warfighter safe. Yet although I’ve asked the Air Force to explain its decision numerous times over the last three months, I have been stonewalled again and again.

No one has explained why the Air Force would ask for a medium-sized plane – and then choose a much larger design, which will cost billions of dollars more in fuel and maintenance. No one has explained why we would buy a plane that is so big we will have to rip out and replace hundreds of runways, ramps, and hangars around the globe. No one has explained why we would not buy the safest-possible plane for our service members. And – perhaps most importantly – no one has explained why we are giving a multi-billion-dollar contract to a company that has made no secret of its desire to dismantle the United States aerospace industry.

For years, the foreign governments that own Airbus have flooded it with illegal subsidies in order to compete with Boeing – in fact, the A-330 is a result of that subsidized system. The United States Trade Representative is so concerned that our government has accused the E.U. of unfair trade practices before the World Trade Organization.

Mrs. President, it makes absolutely no sense that we would accuse Europe of illegally subsidizing Airbus and then turn around and award it a $35 billion contract. And it’s especially troubling because the consequences to our national security and our economy could be huge. 

A report by the nonpartisan Economic Policy Institute shows that Boeing would create at least twice as many American jobs as Airbus.  In other words, we stand to lose as many as 14,000 jobs here in the United States by contracting with Airbus. And with them, we would lose the knowledge and expertise that helped create our global military strength – and that have made the United States the world leader in aerospace technology. Yet no one has explained why we would let all that slip away.

Congress Must Step In

Mrs. President, not only am I very troubled that I haven’t been able to get answers to these questions – but this month, the Air Force gave us new reasons to be concerned.

Almost two weeks ago, the Defense Secretary forced out the Air Force Secretary Michael Wynne and its Chief of Staff Michael Moseley after finding systemic problems in the service that led him to have a serious lack of confidence in their leadership and oversight. Mr. Wynne and General Moseley blessed this contract.  Clearly, we must examine this deal more closely.

Mrs. President, Congress is entrusted by the American people with the responsibility to look out for the taxpayers and to be a check on the Administration. When it is clear that the Administration has gone the wrong direction, we must step in. Now is one of those times.

We owe it to our taxpayers and our service members to make sure we buy the right plane. This contract is too important. And so I hope my colleagues will stand with me and continue to demand that the Air Force justify its decision.