Defense Dept. extends tanker deadline

WASHINGTON, D.C. (WSFA) - The Pentagon says it will extend its deadline for bids on a $35 billion contract for refueling jets so that the European maker of Airbus can compete.

Pentagon Press Secretary Geoff Morrell announced the decision on Wednesday. Morrell said the military still plans to award the contract this fall.

The decision is aimed at encouraging competition in a program that critics say has been poorly managed and heavily favors Boeing Co.

Alabama's senior senator, Richard Shelby (R), "The Department of Defense made the right decision today in extending the deadline for bids on a new aerial refueling tanker. A sole-sourced contract would have served only Boeing's interests. The presence of a competitor better serves the interest of our warfighters and American taxpayers."

Shelby said he hoped EADS can offer a competitive bid, "despite the fact that the RFP has been skewed toward Boeing from the beginning."

Senator Jeff Sessions (R) echoed Shelby's sentiments. "Earlier this month, it looked like this $40 billion program—the Air Force's highest acquisition priority—was headed toward a sole-source selection. History has taught us that sole-source selections mean less capability at a higher cost. The Department of Defense should be thrilled that there remains a possibility for a vigorous competition—as mandated by Congress—which would be of great benefit for the war fighter and the taxpayer," Sessions said.

The deadline was extended by a total of 60 days.

(Copyright 2010 by The Associated Press. WSFA 12 News contributed to this report. All Rights Reserved.)