Battle Begins Over Multi-Billion Dollar Tanker Deal

Montgomery, Al. (WSFA) -- Could Alabama's landmark defense contract for Mobile be in jeopardy? The Air Force recently awarded Northrop Grumman/EADS a $35-billion contract to build jet refueling tankers in Mobile but now the other company in the competition is formally protesting that contract.

Boeing Corperation has filed its formal protest with the Government Accountability Office and today, the Air Force Secretary and the Air Force Chief of Staff went before a Congressional subcommittee to defend that position.

Because the contract is now under protest, the Secretary and the Air Force general said little to defend the decision, but that didn't stop Congressman Norm Dicks, Democrat of Washington state, and a Boeing ally, was especially critical of the decision.

Now that Boeing has filed its written complaint and once it is assigned to a G.A.O. lawyer and accepted, the Air Force will have 30 days to respond. Both Boeing and Northrop Grumman will be allowed to respond to the Air Force.

A hearing could be required or further evidence sought before the G.A.O. makes a decision, all within 100 days.

Meanwhile, the Northrup Grumman Corporation is contradicting Boeing's claims that jobs will be sent overseas. The company announced today the deal will create 48,000 direct and indirect jobs at its suppliers nationwide including 1,500 jobs here in Alabama.

Northrop Grumman and its partner, EADS, are building a huge manufacturing facility in Mobile.

Today, Mobile's mayor and other elected officials held a news conference denouncing Boeing's complaint.

Mayor Sam Jones says, "We've always said in Mobile all we wanted was to be graded on the merits of the competition and we appear to have won on the merits and that's what the competition should be about."

Alabama Congressmen Artur Davis and Jo Bonner also came out today in support of the existing contract.