News Releases

Murray: GAO Ruling Shows Air Force Made the Wrong Decision on Refueling Tanker Contract

Jun 19 2008

Congress Must Keep Pushing to Get Answers from Pentagon

Listen to Murray's Floor Remarks

(WASHINGTON, D.C.) – Today, U.S. Senator Patty Murray (D-WA) delivered a speech on the Senate floor about Wednesday’s Government Accountability Office ruling in favor of Boeing.  The GAO found that the Air Force made significant errors when it awarded a contract to build the next generation of aerial refueling tankers to the European company Airbus, and it recommended that the service reopen the contract.

In her speech, Senator Murray said that she expects a thorough response by the Pentagon.  And she urged her Senate colleagues to demand that the Air Force answer justify its decision.

"This decision isn’t a surprise," Senator Murray said in her speech.  "Air Force and Pentagon officials have told me time and again that they followed the law and that the contract would stand up to review.   But since the very beginning, it has been very clear that the Airbus tanker did not meet the Air Force’s needs – no matter what its public relations campaign has said." 

"By re-evaluating this deal with proper criteria, I’m confident the Air Force will finally agree with me, they’ll award this contract to Boeing in short order, and our airmen and women will have the best possible plane to carry out their missions."

The following are Senator Murray’s remarks as prepared for delivery:

Madam President, yesterday, the Government Accountability Office issued its ruling on Boeing’s protest of one of the largest defense contracts in history – the Air Force’s decision to choose the European company Airbus to supply the next generation of aerial refueling tankers.  In its ruling, the GAO agreed with Boeing that there were fundamental flaws in the process from the very beginning.

GAO’s attorneys found that the Air Force made a number of significant errors that unfairly misled Boeing and favored Airbus.  And they recommended that the Air Force reopen the contract, get new proposals, and make a new decision that corrects the errors GAO found.

This Decision Isn't a Surprise

Madam President, this decision isn’t a surprise.  Air Force and Pentagon officials have told me time and again that they followed the law and that the contract would stand up to review.  But since the very beginning, it has been very clear that the Airbus tanker did not meet the Air Force’s needs – no matter what its public relations campaign has said. 

Even though the Air Force claimed that it had selected the cheaper plane and made no mistakes – we learned last week that it had made a critical error when calculating the operating costs of the two tankers.  The Air Force is now acknowledging that the Airbus plane actually costs tens of millions of dollars more.

Two weeks ago, Defense Secretary Gates forced out the top two Air Force leaders – Secretary Michael Wynne and its Chief of Staff, General Michael Moseley.  By doing that, he expressed a serious lack of confidence in their leadership and oversight.

And all along, the Pentagon has refused to answer even basic questions about this contract. 

Madam President, I – and the many others who have raised concerns about the Air Force decision – now expect a thorough and honest response from the Pentagon to the GAO’s decision.

We Still Need Answers

But, as I have said all along, the GAO ruling answers only one over-arching question that has been raised in this process – and that is whether the Air Force followed the letter of the law when it chose Airbus for the contract.  That means that even if it was obvious that Airbus’s plane was wrong for the warfighter – and wrong for the taxpayer – it could not push for answers.  Madam President, that is Congress’s job.  And we must continue to press for real answers to those hard questions.

We need to know why the Air Force chose a plane that is bigger and less-efficient than it asked for – one that can’t use hundreds of our runways, ramps, and hangars – and one that will cost billions of dollars more in fuel and maintenance.  We need to know whether our government should buy a plane that even the Air Force says is less survivable – less able to keep the warfighter safe.  And we need to know what the effect on our economy and our national security will be if we turn this technology over to a company owned by foreign governments.

The United States Trade Representative is so concerned about the subsidies Airbus receives that it has brought a case against the E.U. before the World Trade Organization.  We need to know why in the world we would accuse Europe of unfair trade practices – and then hand Airbus a major piece of our defense industry.

And we need to know why our government would hand them the contract now.  In May, employers cut 49,000 jobs.  It was the largest one-month jump in unemployment in 22 years.  Yet the Administration wants to send 44,000 U.S. jobs overseas at a time when we are already hemorrhaging jobs here in this country.

Madam President, on the day in February that the Air Force first announced it had awarded this plane to Airbus, I was on the 767 line with Boeing workers.  I’ll never forget the shock and disappointment in their eyes.  One woman ran down to talk to me.  She said her son flies these tankers in Iraq, and she couldn’t understand why her tax dollars would be used to build these overseas.  She knew this was the wrong decision.  And yesterday, she was vindicated.

And so, Madam President, for months now, I’ve been saying that this process was flawed, we shouldn’t hand away billions of dollars and thousands of jobs, and that Boeing should build these tankers.   The GAO decision backs up each of my concerns. 

The process was clearly flawed.  We need to know why.  We shouldn’t buy more expensive planes built in France.  That seems obvious.  And with a level playing field, Boeing builds the best tanker at the best price.  By re-evaluating this deal with proper criteria, I’m confident the Air Force will finally agree with me, they’ll award this contract to Boeing in short order, and our airmen and women will have the best possible plane to carry out their missions.