In a vigorous op-ed piece, Sen. Richard Shelby, (R-Ala.) argues today that the "the long fight over the tanker contract proves that the acquisition process is fundamentally and significantly flawed."
Shelby, who has been fairly quiet until now, comes roaring out of the box, saying the decision to delay the tanker competition until the next administration was "a blatant, politically motivated decision, driven by the political and emotional hysteria generated by members of Congress who wanted Boeing to win no matter what." He makes the grave charge that his fellow lawmakers "were more concerned with jobs in their states than U.S. war fighters' needs." He also accuses the Defense Department of "abdicating its responsibility to ensure our war fighters have the best equipment possible." The defense secretary made the "wrong decision" for the "wrong reasons," Shelby says.
The senator goes so far as to claim that the award to Northrop Grumman was cancelled "solely because Boeing was not the winner. Defense acquisition policy has been stated: If it is not a Boeing plane, DoD is not going to buy it." Obviously referring to the age of the tanker fleet, Shelby writes in the Washington Times that, "We are now jeopardizing the safety and security of our nation and those who fight for it simply because politics trumped logic, fairness and concern for the troops."
That may be a bridge too far, but the fact that Shelby -- one of the most powerful defense senators, with a seat on the Senate Appropriations defense subcommittee -- has come out swinging seems to indicate that Northrop Grumman's supporters on the Hill are no longer playing by the company's strategy that was to let the contract award speak for itself.