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Top OSD Officials Think Tanker Deal Can Go Ahead

UPDATE: We've gotten a rocket from the Pentagon, saying that John Young, the Pentagon's head weapon's buyer, has not decided to go ahead with the tanker rebid. However, our source on this issue advises that we wait this one out before issuing a correction. So we will. Colin 3 p.m. Wednesday

Senior Pentagon and Air Force officials who have read the full 67-page report about the tanker bid by the Government Accountability Office think they can still grant a contract before the end of the Bush Administration. John Young, the Pentagon's acquisition czar, has reportedly drafted a letter for the four congressional committees that oversee defense spending and policy informing them of the Pentagon's decision to go ahead and award the contract to Northrop Grumman.

There have been reports that the GAO ruling on the tanker contract could add two years or more to the contract award, something that has greatly concerned Air Force leaders eager to start building new tankers after almost a decade of trying.

"Their finding is that the full document is quite different from the summary," issued last Wednesday, said a source familiar with the issue. The source said Air Force leaders believe much of what was challenged is "procedural" and can be resolved without rebidding the deal.

The 69-page report is expected to become public tomorrow.

The GAO said in its summary that it found "a number of significant errors that could have affected the outcome of what was a close competition between Boeing and Northrop Grumman" and recommended that the bid be reopened. By law, the Air Force has 60 days to inform the GAO of how it will respond to the recommendations.

Any Air Force decision to press ahead with the contract award to Northrop Grumman is likely to spark outrage on Capitol Hill among supporters of Boeing, who include Rep. Norm Dicks (D-Wash.), the Nr. 2 member of the House Appropriations defense subcommittee, as well as Washington's two senators and lawmakers from Kansas.

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