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Boeing Anxious About Terms of Tanker Rebid

CORRECTION: We incorrectly attributed a statement by Boeing. We have fixed the attribution and regret the error. Colin

That rasping sound you hear is the cumulative grinding of teeth from Boeing and its supporters in the wake of yesterday's announcement of a rebid on the tanker contract.

They are worried -- and we all know we grind our teeth when we're worried -- because the Pentagon's basic criteria for the plane apparently will not change when the new request for proposal is issued. The clearest expression of Boeing's unhappiness came late yesterday from that bellwether of Boeing sentiment, Rep. Norm Dicks (D-Wash.), who has and will fight relentlessly for the company to get at least some part of the KC-X tanker money.

The press release Dicks put out yesterday said he "has serious doubts about the ability of the Defense Department to conduct a renewed competition that is fair and open and that meets the 'real world' requirements of refueling U.S. military aircraft."

Dicks spoke yesterday morning with John Young, undersecretary of Defense for acquisition, technology and logistics, and was told "that the criteria for the new tanker will favor a larger tanker from the outset, assigning additional credit to a bigger plane." That is a no-no for Boeing supporters, who say that the requirement for a larger plane unfairly skews the competition in Northrop Grumman's favor.

"Last month the GAO issued a report that was unusually critical of the tanker selection process conducted by the Air Force for unfairly favoring a tanker that was larger than needed, most costly to maintain and that would require substantial amounts of construction money for new facilities," Dicks said in the press release. "In its harshly-worded report, the GAO said that the Air Force failed to evaluate proposals based on its stated requirements and it demonstrated favorable treatment toward the EADS/Northrop Grumman A-330 tanker over Boeing's KC-767."

The rub, Dicks made clear, is that he thinks "the department is trying to find a new way to justify selecting the larger Airbus tanker again, even though there is no current operational requirement for a larger refueling tanker." Dicks, will, the release said, "strongly oppose" this.

For its part, Boeing made clear its unease in a statement issued yesterday, saying "we remain concerned that a renewed Request for Proposals (RFP) may include changes that significantly alter the selection criteria as set forth in the original solicitation. As the Government Accountability Office reported in upholding our protest, we submitted the only proposal that fully met the mandatory criteria of the original RFP."

And then came the veiled warning: "We look forward to working with the new acquisition team as it reopens the competition, but we will also take time to understand the updated solicitation to determine the right path forward for the company." Could they be hinting at a lawsuit?

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