News Releases

 - Floor speech

(Washington, D.C.) – In a speech on the Senate floor today, U.S. Senator Patty Murray (D-WA) called on the Pentagon to ensure that the new contest to replace the Air Force’s aerial refueling tanker fleet is as fair and transparent as possible.  Senator Murray’s speech comes one day after she met with Acting Air Force Secretary Michael B. Donley to discuss the tanker contract.

Some Pentagon officials are already indicating that they are considering using this opportunity to amend the Request for Proposals to give greater weight to a bigger plane.  And as a result, defense experts and analysts are predicting that the contract will go to Airbus again.

In her speech, Senator Murray said the new competition should not favor one bidder over another.  She also called on Defense Secretary Gates to ensure that the new selection team goes back and addresses each of the Government Accountability Office’s findings before re-opening the competition.

“I’m not saying the Pentagon can’t change the Request for Proposals,” Senator Murray said in her speech.  “However, I strongly believe that all of those changes must be rooted in the original requirements set out by the Air Force when it began the process of replacing the military’s mid-sized tanker, the KC-135.”

“As it continues with this competition, the Department of Defense must make sure there is no reason to question its motives,” Senator Murray added. “If he truly plans to make this a fair contest, Secretary Gates must ensure that before the selection team re-opens this competition it goes back and addresses each of the GAO findings, ensures that both companies are on the same footing, and proves that the competition is as transparent as possible.”

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

Madam President, earlier this month, the Department of Defense took a rare step involving a major procurement contract.  Defense Secretary Gates decided that the competition to replace the next generation of aerial refueling tankers was so flawed, it should be re-bid.  He elevated the competition from the Air Force to his office.  And he promised to address all of the findings raised last month in a Government Accountability Office ruling, which determined that the contest was skewed in favor of the European company Airbus – and against Boeing.

Madam President, I was glad to hear that the Defense Secretary has decided to take new bids and start over.  But, I have come to the floor today because I have concerns about the Pentagon’s plans for that new competition.  Some Pentagon officials are already indicating that they are considering using this opportunity to amend the Request for Proposals to give greater weight to a bigger plane.  And as a result, defense experts and analysts are predicting that the contract will go to Airbus again.

Now, I brought this up in a meeting this week with Acting Air Force Secretary Donley, in which we discussed the history of the tanker contract.  We talked about the needs of the Air Force, about the criticisms that have been lodged against the latest competition, and about my concerns about amendments to the RFP that would tip the scales to favor one bidder.

Madam President, I’m not saying the Pentagon can’t change the Request for Proposals.  However, I strongly believe that all of those changes must be rooted in the original requirements set out by the Air Force when it began the process of replacing the military’s mid-sized tanker, the KC-135.  I recognize that the Pentagon’s procurement team is very serious about getting this competition right.  They want to get the right tanker for our warfighters – and they want to do it quickly.  But I also want to make it clear that as the Pentagon moves forward with this effort, officials must take the GAO’s findings seriously and ensure this competition is as fair and transparent as it can be.  

GAO Upheld 8 Points of Protest

Madam President, last month, the GAO upheld eight points of protest raised by Boeing, including:

  • that the Air Force changed direction midstream about which criteria were more important. It didn’t give Boeing credit for providing a more capable plane according to the Air Force’s description of what it wanted.  Yet it gave Airbus extra credit for offering amenities it didn’t ask for.
  • that the Air Force deliberately – and unreasonably – increased Boeing’s engineering costs.  And when the mistake was corrected, it was discovered that the Airbus tanker actually costs tens of millions of dollars more than Boeing’s.
  • and that the Air Force accepted Airbus’s proposal – even though Airbus couldn’t meet two key contract requirements.  First, Airbus refused to commit to providing long-term maintenance as specified in the RFP – even after the Air Force asked for it repeatedly.  And second, the Air Force couldn’t prove that Airbus could refuel all of the military’s aircraft according to procedure.

Madam President, this just goes to show the major flaws that occurred throughout the process.  As it continues with this competition, the Department of Defense must make sure there is no reason to question its motives.  If he truly plans to make this a fair contest, Secretary Gates must ensure that before the selection team re-opens this competition it goes back and addresses each of the GAO findings, ensures that both companies are on the same footing, and proves that the competition is as transparent as possible.

We Must Get This Right

Madam President, our refueling tankers are the backbone of our global military strength.  They are stationed around the world, and they service planes from every branch of the armed forces.  And this is a contract that is ultimately worth more than $100 billion.  We will have these planes for decades.  And we can’t afford to make mistakes.

As I said in the beginning of my remarks, I recognize that Secretary Gates is very serious about getting this competition right.  At the end of the day, this is about getting the right equipment for our airmen and women who put themselves into harm’s way for our security every day.  Our service members deserve a plane that will enable them to do their jobs and return home safely.  And our taxpayers deserve to have confidence that the errors are going to be fixed in this contract.  And so, as the Pentagon moves forward with this effort, I strongly urge officials to take the GAO’s findings seriously and ensure this competition is as fair and transparent as it can