Alabama Officials React to GAO's Decision on Tanker Deal

Montgomery, Al. (WSFA) -- WSFA 12 News contacted Governor Bob Riley's office for reaction to news that congressional investigators will grant Boeing Corp.'s protest of the $35 billion Air Force tanker contract that was awarded to Northrop Grumman Corp.

Northrop Grumman has plans to build the new tankers in Mobile.

Governor Riley was in New York when he learned of the news and issued the following statement:

"It's important to note that the GAO did not make a judgment on the aircraft put forward by either company but on the process. We continue to believe Northrop-Grumman's tanker is the superior product for our warfighters. If the selection process needs to be redone, then I hope it's done quickly, and, I'm still confident the Northrop-Grumman tanker will win again. What's most important is that the best aircraft be chosen for those who serve in our military and that political decisions never be allowed in the military's selection process."

U.S. Senator Richard Shelby also issued a statement reading:

I cannot believe that in the most highly scrutinized procurement in the history of the United States Air Force the GAO found so many errors.  The fact that the Air Force will likely have to go back to square one on the warfighter's number one priority is very disturbing.

Alabama's Junior U.S. Senator, Jeff Session, also issued a statement:

"It is extremely disappointing that the GAO found errors in the U.S. Air Force bid process.  Their report will, unfortunately, further delay the purchase of the Air Force's new refueling tanker, which is their number one acquisition priority.
The Air Force's tanker competition was designed to select the finest aircraft available for our men and women in uniform. I firmly believe that the Northrop Grumman/EADS proposal is the superior aircraft. The GAO report specifically notes that it should not be read to reflect negatively on the airplane's merits.  The GAO pointed out several questions regarding the Air Force's selection process, and we look forward to the Air Force's response as we move forward. While this is a most disappointing decision, the competition is not over. I am confident the merits of the Northrop Grumman/EADS tanker will be acknowledged. It is important to note that this was a decision based on errors in process, not on the relative merits of the aircraft."

Northrop Grumman's Vice President of Corperate and International Communications issued only a three sentence statement:

"We respect the GAO's work in analyzing the Air Force's tanker acquisition process. We continue to believe that Northrop Grumman offered the most modern and capable tanker for our men and women in uniform. We will review the GAO findings before commenting further."

The Government Accountablity Office's decision is not binding, however, it puts pressure on the Air Force to re-examine the contract and could help Boeing capture part or all of the award.

That was confirmed by the offices of Sens. Patty Murray, R-Wash., and Pat Roberts, R-Kan.

The decision also gives ammunition to Boeing supporters in Congress seeking to block funding for the deal or force a new competition.

The contract for 179 aerial refueling tankers is the first of three deals worth up to $100 billion to replace the Air Force's entire tanker fleet.

WSFA 12 News will have the latest on this story as soon as it becomes available.

(Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press contributed to this report. All Rights Reserved.)