Politics & Policy

Right to Protest?

Boeing has a right to challenge its loss of the Air Force bid, but is it right to do so?

The Boeing Corporation’s protest of the United States Air Force decision to award the contract for a new tanker/cargo aircraft is well within the company’s rights. At issue, however, is whether it was the right thing to do for the Air Force, for the country, and for Boeing itself.

Boeing claims that the rules were changed mid-game and Boeing was not informed. The implication of this claim is that Northrop Grumman was in on a secret that was kept from Boeing. This is patently absurd and false.

In announcing that Northrop Grumman had won the bid, Air Force Assistant Secretary for Acquisition Sue Payton stated unequivocally that there was constant, open communication between her group and the two competitors. Each side had a chance, through multiple steps, to protest or question anything that they felt was going awry in the process. Boeing accepted the playing field as it was and remained silent. In fact, company officials repeatedly praised the openness of the process. It was only after they lost that they found it to be unfair.

Now Boeing is protesting, thereby delaying even further a long overdue upgrade in the nation’s capacity to refuel its warplanes. In a fit of pique, Boeing has decided that petty political infighting takes precedence over the interests of our men and women in uniform.

Moreover, through its surrogates, Boeing has decided to impugn the integrity of one of the candidates for President believing that, somehow, this will make things right. Senator John McCain is undoubtedly partly responsible for the circumstances surrounding the Boeing situation. Instead of inviting criticism, however, his actions should invite only praise, for it was Senator McCain who lead the charge against a previous tanker “deal” that was not only wrong for the Air Force and for the country, but was rife with illegalities and would have cost the American taxpayers.

To suggest that Senator McCain took a stand that is un-American is to suggest that corruption is the American way. If this is the point of view of Boeing’s corporate leadership, then Boeing does not deserve the tanker contract — or any other contract for that matter — irrespective of the technical quality of the company’s bid.

Finally, Boeing — again through its factotums — complains that Northrop Grumman has teamed with a foreign company to manufacture the planes. This much is true. If this is so wrong, then, why does Boeing not draw criticism for the Chinese, Japanese, Italian, and other non-U.S. composition of its many planes?

More to the point, why does Boeing not draw criticism for the fact that the engines on its KC-135R refueling tanker are made by a manufacturer half-owned by the French company, Snecma? Never once in our nation’s sometimes difficult relationship with the French has a single engine part been withheld or even delayed because of the disagreements over foreign policy between our countries. If it has never happened before, why would it happen now, as some suggest that it will?

The fact of the matter is that Boeing lost, and lost fair and square in an open process, and all of its post-defeat complaining is little more than noise. Nonetheless, the company is within its rights to file this protest.

Is such action right for the Air Force, which badly needs these modern planes to service its warplanes?

Certainly not.

Is it right for the country, which needs and deserves an Air Force with the best equipment available?

Not in the least.

And, for Boeing?

I cannot speak for the company and its interests, but I do know that moving forward with KC-45A program is in the national interest, and that should be every American’s top priority.

— General Horner was the Combined Forces Air Component Commander during Desert Shield and Desert Storm. He consults for a number of defense firms including Northrop Grumman.

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