Air Force bows to pressure

After intense criticism and pressure from Congress and industry, the Air Force announced Thursday it would amend its request for proposals for a high-profile search-and-rescue helicopter.

In its first real test after a tanker lease deal that went sour and attracted heightened congressional scrutiny of its contracts, the Air Force last year awarded the combat search-and-rescue (CSAR-X) contract to Boeing, which offered its time-tested, heavy-lift Chinook helicopter. The two other competitors in the program, Lockheed Martin and Sikorsky, filed separate protests with the Government Accountability Office (GAO), which upheld the protests.

However, GAO only ruled on one issue: the cost of operations and support over the life cycle of the program. The congressional watchdog organization recommended that the Air Force reopen the competition for the $15 billion program.

After initially indicating that it was unwilling to reopen the competition, the Air Force budged Thursday, saying it would comply with GAO’s recommendation.

In a rare move last week, the Air Force asked GAO to evaluate the other protest points brought up by Lockheed Martin and Sikorsky.

“The Air Force remains committed to a fair, open and transparent process while working to resolve this protest,” said Sue Payton, Air Force service acquisition executive. “Additionally, we have a moral obligation to deliberately and expeditiously deliver the combat search-and-rescue capability the warfighter needs to protect those who are in the fight today, and in the future, in operations around the world.”