BAE supporters fight contract

Reps. Robert Andrews (D-N.J.) and Mike Conaway (R-Texas) are requesting a briefing from Pentagon acquisitions chief Ashton Carter by Oct. 2 on the process and rationale behind the $3 billion contract.

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Andrews and Conaway lead the ad-hoc House Armed Services Committee sub-panel on acquisition reform. The Army truck program, known as the Family of Medium Tactical Vehicles, or FMTV, falls under the jurisdiction of the Air and Land subcommittee, but the leaders of that panel have not weighed in on the issue.

The Government Accountability Office (GAO) is reviewing a protest of the Army’s contract to the Oshkosh, Wis.-based specialty-truck maker. BAE and another company, Navistar, filed separate protests with the GAO in early September. The congressional investigative arm has 100 days to uphold or reject the protests.

Andrews and Conaway wrote a letter to Carter last week on behalf of BAE, a U.K.-owned American company, which previously held the contract for the FMTV.

Andrews and Conaway argued that the Army’s recent contract decision is inconsistent with a congressional mandate that required the Army to buy an improved version of the FMTV that “would incorporate lessons learned from Iraq and Afghanistan.”

The two lawmakers argue that BAE made at least 60 changes to the armored cabs of the trucks that were not considered as part of the renewed competition for FMTV.

“We understand that the specs [specifics] included in this contract will build a truck that will be at least two years behind trucks built by BAE Systems today,” the lawmakers wrote.

Andrews and Conaway want Carter to tell them how requirements differed between the new FMTV contract and the old ones held by BAE. They also want to know what weight was given to experience and incumbency and whether design cost and intellectual property were taken into account.

“Oshkosh believes [the Army] conducted the FMTV procurement in a fair and highly professional manner,” said John Daggett, Oshkosh’s director of communications.  

“Oshkosh won this contract because its proposalrepresents the best value to the Army, its soldiers and the nation’s taxpayers.  We are confident the protest process will bear this out.”

Defense analysts consider it extremely rare when an incumbent company is not rewarded a renewed contract. It is also rare that a congressional defense reform panel would interject itself in the middle of a GAO review, said a defense lobbyist familiar with the issue.

Andrews told The Hill it was not necessary to wait for the GAO’s decision.

“I am not prejudging whether this decision was right or wrong, or whether the criteria were right or wrong,” Andrews said in a phone interview. “I am interested in what the criteria were.”

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Andrews said BAE has business interests in New Jersey and that the company approached him about the truck issue. He did not directly discuss his letter with Rep. Neil Abercrombie (D-Hawaii), the chairman of the Air and Land panel. Andrews also said he has not heard back from Carter yet.

BAE, which is on the cusp of losing its grip on the U.S. military’s tactical wheeled vehicles market, has elevated its lobbying campaign on Capitol Hill, targeting key lawmakers on the defense committees and professional staff.

BAE hired the powerful law firm Wiley Rein LLP to help with the GAO protest. That’s the same company that worked with Boeing Co. on its successful protest of the Air Force’s $35 billion refueling tanker contract. BAE’s Land and Armaments unit alone has several lobbying shops on retainer, such as Stapleton and Associates, which is run by a former aide to Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-Texas); Bedrock Strategies; Van Fleet Associates; and Robinson International, according to lobbying disclosure data.

BAE’s political action committee has contributed close to $400,000 to lawmakers’ campaigns for the 2010 election cycle and gave close to $1 million in 2008.
Andrews received $6,000 in donations from the company for the 2008 election and $1,000 for the 2010 cycle.

BAE did not contribute any money to Conaway’s campaign in the 2008 cycle and has not donated to him so far in the 2010 cycle, according to federal election data.

But the company has donated to many other Texans in this cycle. Rep. Chet Edwards (D) received $6,000; Rep. Michael McCaul (R) received $10,000; Rep. Henry Cuellar (D) received $2,500; Reps. Pete Olson (R), Kay Granger (R) and Silvestre Reyes (D) received $2,000; and Hutchison received $1,000.

Sealy, a town in McCaul’s district where BAE has manufactured the trucks, stands to lose about 3,000 jobs if the company doesn’t win back the FMTV contract.

In a letter signed by about two dozen other lawmakers, mostly from Texas, McCaul last week wrote to Defense Secretary Robert Gates to express concern about the contract. Ohio and Michigan could also be hit with some layoffs if BAE stops producing the vehicles.

The FMTV program includes 17 different trucks and trailer models, based on a common chassis, that vary by payload and mission.

The loss of FMTV is amplified by the fact that BAE earlier this year lost a contract worth $3.3 billion — also to Oshkosh — for mine resistant all-terrain patrol trucks, or M-ATVs, for troops deployed to Afghanistan.

The Army’s support for some of its workhorse vehicles, such as trucks, is now shifting to the increasingly powerful Wisconsin delegation, which will throw its support behind Oshkosh. Rep. David Obey (D-Wis.) is the chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, while Sen. Herb Kohl (D-Wis.) is a defense appropriator.

The FMTV and M-ATV contracts will give a much-needed cash injection to Oshkosh, which faced the possibility of bankruptcy earlier this year due to diminished  demand for its commercial construction vehicles.