Rep. Norm Dicks, Boeing supporter extraordinaire, is the "closest thing to a sure thing you get in Washington" to ascend to chairmanship of the House Appropriations defense subcommittee, says defense sage and consultant Loren Thompson.
I asked Thompson, who was desperately seeking salt to battle the next winter storm, if Dicks' ascension would mean that Boeing would have undue influence on the decisions of the House spending body. "They say that becoming chairman has an effect on the way one behaves I guess we are going to see if that's true," Thompson said. He pointed out that Dicks comes "from a very different regional political cultural and a very different generation," obviously referring to Murtha's time as a Marine in Vietnam and the pretty conservative rural district from which he came in Pennsylvania.
Also, Dicks has defense contractors -- Boeing preeminent among them, but not alone -- in his district so if he delivers a robust defense budget the companies in his district will almost certainly benefit. Murtha headed the defense spending subcommittee but did not have major defense contractors in his district. That, Thompson said, may have contributed to Murtha's focus on delivering defense earmarks.
The biggest programmatic winner from Dicks' donning of the defense cardinal's mantle will be Boeing's tanker. Murtha pushed for a dual buy from Northrop Grumman and from Boeing. He wanted to push the buy to 26 from the planned 15 planes. Dicks has absolutely no incentive to push for a dual buy. And Northrop Grumman's executives have pretty much concluded that they cannot win under the terms of the draft RFP. And word so far from the Pentagon is that the final RFP will not differ much from the draft, notwithstanding Alabama Senator Richard Shelby's grandstand effort of the last few days to hold up a raft of Obama nominees. Shelby made it clear he wanted the Pentagon to change the final RFP so it would be friendlier to Northrop. He has lifted most of the holds but has kept holds on at least three pending senior Air Force officials' nominations: Terry Yonkers, assistant secretary of the Air Force; Frank Kendall, principal deputy undersecretary of Defense for acquisition, technology, and togistics; and Erin Conaton, Air Force undersecretary.