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TANKER OUTRAGE ILLUSTRATES BOEING'S HYPOCRISY

Published Mar. 12, 2008

Boeing is one of the great American companies - an export powerhouse, a technology leader, the creator of hundreds of thousands of high-paying jobs and a source of U.S. military power. For those who've stuck with it, it also has been a great long-term investment.

So it's rather disappointing to watch as the company and its crew of Washington allies resort to jingoism, protectionism and outright hypocrisy as they seek to overturn the Pentagon's decision to choose another team to build a badly needed fleet of refueling tankers for the Air Force.

The latest complaint from Boeing & Friends is that the Air Force had the temerity to conclude that taxpayers could get more for their money by awarding the $40-billion tanker contract to the team of Northrop Grumman and Airbus, Boeing's major rival. This is the contract, you may remember, that Boeing lobbyists thought they arranged as an unusual sole-source lease agreement several years back.

Now that the decision has been made, Boeing's congressional allies, who for months vigorously defended the sweetheart lease agreement, are suddenly deeply concerned about the integrity of the selection process.

They are outraged that Boeing - a global company that relies on exports for much of its business and outsources a good chunk of its production to foreign plants - might have to compete in its home market with importers and outsourcers.

They are furious that Boeing has lost a contract at a time when it has a record backlog of orders.

And although Boeing routinely profits by selling its military hardware and technology to U.S. allies, its boosters are suddenly gravely concerned that by importing wings and fuselages from Spain, France and Germany, the Air Force is creating a grave threat to national security.

Overturning this contract decision would set a terrible precedent. It would signal to allies that while their governments are expected to buy our stuff, we won't buy theirs. It would mean that Boeing would become the monopoly supplier of transport planes to the U.S. government. And the message it would send to every contracting officer is that if they know what is good for them, they will put political considerations ahead of the best value.

If members of Congress want a Pentagon contract to complain about, this isn't it. They might focus, instead, on the contract to replace Marine One, the helicopter that shuttles presidents and other dignitaries. What started out as a simple task of replacing 40-year-old choppers has grown into a two-phase extravaganza involving 28 aircraft that can travel 350 miles without refueling; evade radar detection and missile attacks; withstand nuclear blasts; and engage in simultaneous super-secure video, audio and digital communication with every head of state, constitutional officer and field commander anywhere in the world. And oh, yes, don't forget the plush carpet.

Total cost: $11-billion, according to the latest estimate, or nearly $400-million a pop.

Now THAT'S something to get outraged about.