It's one of the biggest U.S. Defense contracts ever. Now, Alabama's chances of keeping it are in jeopardy. In February, the Air Force awarded Northrup Grumman and EADS a $35 billion dollar contract to build air tanker jets. Northrop Grumman planned to build the giant flying refueling stations in Mobile. But about the time folks in Alabama celebrated, the other bidder in the process, Boeing aircraft protested to the government accountability office. Wednesday, the GAO determined Boeing was mis-treated in the bidding.
Director of the Alabama Development Office, Neal Wade, put a lot of time and effort into the project. The government's decision came as a shock. He says, "I think everybody is trying to understand what this decision means."
In sustaining Boeing's protest of the contract, the GAO concluded "the Air Force had made a number of significant errors that could have affected the outcome of what was a close competition. The GAO says it found that the Air Force conducted misleading and unequal discussion that favored Northrop Grumman and EADS. An Air Force spokesperson warned before the decision came down it was not in the mood to start the process over again. He said, "This is the number one acquisition priority of the Air Force. It has to be. It is ten years overdue. Any further delay would be a real problem."
If the Air Force does go back to square one, Wade believes Northrop's tanker is the superior product and is confident the company will win the contract again. He tells WSFA 12 News, "We believe the military, the fighting men and women, should have the best product."
Senator Jeff Sessions was equally concerned about the decision. "I am convinced they decided based on the merits of what was the best aircraft,' he said Wednesday.
Northrop's plans to build the tanker jets were moving full speed ahead. Wade says a groundbreaking and parade were set to take place in a week. Now, those plans are in a holding patter. "We're not going to have 1500 people in South Alabama starting jobs immediately," added Wade.
Wade says the government's decision won't keep Alabama officials from pursuing suppliers. Meanwhile, the Air Force has 60 days to respond to the GAO's recommendation.