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Lawmakers Slam Tanker RFP

Sen. Richard Shelby of Alabama notes "with alarm" in a letter to Defense Secretary Robert Gates that the draft tanker RFP "omits an assessment of risk associated with either schedule, past performance, or price..." Shelby supports the Northrop Grumman tanker.

Rep. Norm Dicks of Washington cites four "serious concerns" about the RFP which he believes "demonstrate a clear bias for the EADS/NG tanker proposal" in his letter to Shay Assad, director of defense procurement at the Pentagon.

The Pentagon? Well, you get the feeling they are a bit tired of all this harrumphing and just want to get some planes bought.

"As we have said in the past, this is not a rerun of the prior process or the prior RFP," said spokeswoman Cheryl Irwin. "With this new draft RFP, we are very cognizant of the criticisms made and are taking very strong steps to try and correct those criticisms."

But the lawmakers will make their points. After all many jobs, much money and a key capability are at stake.

So here's a bit more of what Shelby said. “The draft RFP creates a cost shootout where the lowest priced bid wins, regardless of capabilities offered – capabilities that could save the lives of our warfighters. Such a race to the bottom is unworthy of our men and women in uniform. The draft RFP needs a serious rewrite to ensure that the taxpayer and the warfighter are equally protected. We cannot have our military flying in paper airplanes simply because it’s cheaper,” wrote the senator, who was joined in signing the letter by the other federal lawmakers from Alabama.

Shelby and co. also are "very concerned" that the draft RFP "explicitly marginalizes or eliminates 21st century performance that was highly valued during the previous competition, including capacity for airlift, passengers, and medical evacuation. As a result, most of the RFP’s requirements could be met by the KC-135 designed over 50 years ago."

Ouch!

Back to Dicks. He, of course, hauls out the World Trade Organization's reported draft finding that EADS received illegal subsidies from European governments. This finding -- which is not yet official and may be appealed once it becomes official -- "must still be factored in" to the competition to ensure "fair judgment" by the Pentagon, he says in his Oct. 23 letter.

Dicks resurrects the life cycle cost criticism of the Northrop product. He says the fuel cost assumed in the draft RFP are "unrealistic" and "will grossly distort" the cost of fuel, meaning the US might buy a plane that will cost much more than expected over time. Dicks spends one page of a single-spaced letter discussing the fuel issue in his letter to Shay Assad, director of defense procurement at the Pentagon.

Then he lambasts the Pentagon for choosing the wrong bases for its military construction costs, saying they only picked four National Guard or Reserve bases. Choosing these bases may mean construction costs "are likely to much higher" in real life than the draft RFP would find.

Finally, Dicks hammers away at what could be a true weakness in Boeing's offering -- the rate of fuel offload in its proposed boom. The new requirement is for at least 1,200 gallons per minute to feed C-5s and C-17s, which is what the Northrop tanker can reportedly offload. Boeing's tanker can handle about 900 gallons a minute. This requirement changed from the last competition when it was not mandatory.

But the Air Force told Dicks that the "requirement was and still is 1,200 GPM. In the previous source selection this was a tradable requirement," noting that a company able to offload less would get "partial credit." The Air Force argued that the new draft RFP "clarifies this requirement."

Dicks will have none of it, saying "it is more than curious" that the new requirement "conveniently coincides" with Northrop's stated capability.

All in all, Dicks thinks the RFP "needs to be significantly improved" to reflect his concerns.

Let’s see how much the Pentagon rewrites the draft RFP to take these concerns into account. My guess is that not much will change.

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