Last year, the Air Force blocked Boeing from a billion dollars worth of new satellite-launching contracts, for stealing industrial secrets from competitor Lockheed Martin.Now, the Wall Street Journal says that "Boeing and Air Force officials are putting the final touches on an agreement that clears the way for the company's rocket units to resume government bidding."
For its part, the Chicago company has agreed to pay the Air Force's investigative costs, implemented various ethics programs and pledged to provide regular updates to the Pentagon on compliance efforts, these officials said. The payment amount isn't expected to exceed several million dollars, though no final terms have been reached and last-minute disagreements could hold up a resolution.A settlement wouldn't resolve pending Justice Department criminal and civil investigations, which are likely to take many more months to play out and could cost Boeing $250 million or more in fines and penalties, according to people familiar with the details. Yet the move could end up reducing the leverage of Justice Department prosecutors and Pentagon investigators pursuing criminal matters.Why would the Air Force do this? The problem is that Boeing is one of an extremely small circle of companies that can actually help the Air Force with its space operations. With satellites playing an increasingly important military role -- relaying communications, finding adversaries, and guiding smart bombs --- the Air Force doesn't want to rely on a single contractor to put its eyes in the sky.So, in a sense, Air Force generals needs Boeing just as much as the company needs them. Call the lawyers.