Lawmakers counter truck award critics

In a letter to Defense Secretary Robert Gates, the entire Wisconsin delegation is lashing out at congressional and industry critics of a lucrative Army truck contract recently awarded to Oshkosh Corp.

Two other companies, BAE Systems Inc. and Navistar, separately protested the contract award with the Government Accountability Office (GAO) in early September. GAO has until December to uphold or deny the protests.

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The Wisconsin lawmakers are pleading with Gates to assist them “in preserving the integrity of the defense acquisition process,” and to prevent “inappropriate” and “undue interference” with the GAO review.

“We are concerned with the blatant efforts to affect the outcome of this independent, quasi-judicial review by attempting to raise protest issues through a public media campaign and through improper contact with Department of Defense officials,” the lawmakers wrote in the letter, which was expected to go to the Pentagon on Tuesday.

Until now, Wisconsin lawmakers have not weighed in on the controversy surrounding the Army’s decision to award the estimated $3 billion truck contract — also known as the Family of Medium Tactical Vehicles (FMTV) — to Oshkosh, which is based in their state.

Their letter comes on the heels of an intense lobbying campaign by BAE Systems Inc., which has been manufacturing the FMTV, as well as outspoken support from BAE’s backers in Congress.

The Wisconsin delegation’s decision to jump into the fray is likely to set up a fight with the Texas delegation. Texans in Congress have thrown their full support behind BAE, which builds the FMTV in Sealy, Texas.

It also underlines the shifting support for the military’s workhorse vehicles, such as trucks, from Texas to the increasingly powerful Wisconsin delegation.

Rep. David Obey (D-Wis.) is the chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, while Sen. Herb Kohl (D-Wis.) is a defense appropriator. Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) is the ranking member of the House Budget committee.

Sen. Russ Feingold (D-Wis.) sits on the Senate Budget panel as well as the Foreign Relations and Intelligence panels.

Wisconsin Reps. Tammy Baldwin (D), Ron Kind (D), Gwen Moore (D), James Sensenbrenner Jr. (R), Tom Petri (R) and Steve Kagen (D) also threw their support behind Oshkosh in the letter to Gates.

Apart from FMTV, Oshkosh holds the contract for the mine-resistant all-terrain patrol vehicle and for the Army’s heavy mobility tactical trucks. The company also has the contract for the Marine Corps’s medium tactical vehicles.

Oshkosh owns the proprietary designs for its heavy trucks, making it the sole contractor for those vehicles. However, the Army owns the designs for FMTV, making it easy for the service to compete the program and pick the companies that can produce the vehicles. That is how Oshkosh and Navistar competed against incumbent contractor BAE for the new FMTV contract.

Rep. Michael McCaul (R-Texas), who represents Sealy, recently sent Gates a letter signed by two dozen other lawmakers, mostly from Texas, to express concern about the contract awarded to Oshkosh.

Additionally, Reps. Robert Andrews (D-N.J.) and Mike Conaway (R-Texas), who lead the ad-hoc House Armed Services Committee sub-panel on acquisition reform, asked the Pentagon’s acquisition chief last month to brief them on the process and rationale behind the contract award.

Andrews told The Hill last month that BAE has business interests in New Jersey and that the company approached him about the truck issue.

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

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In their letter to Gates, the Wisconsin lawmakers expressed concern that “some have gone so far as requesting that the Army provide highly confidential and sensitive source selection materials for their review.”

“We believe this is both inappropriate and a dangerous precedent that could result in undue interference in the competitive process,” they wrote.

The 10 lawmakers are also asking Gates to provide them with a complete copy of all materials the Pentagon has provided other members of Congress relating to the FMTV competition as well as the opportunity to receive the same briefings other lawmakers and committees received from Pentagon officials.

The stakes are high for BAE Systems; without the FMTV contract, the company risks losing its grip on the U.S. military’s tactical wheeled vehicle market.

Linda Hudson, BAE’s Land & Armaments president, said her company filed the protest because it believes the Army’s evaluation of the contract proposal was flawed.

Hudson also said that Oshkosh’s bid on the fixed-price contract was too low to be workable.

“No one took into account our incumbency, our experience, our qualified design. A huge mistake was made from an acquisition perspective,” Hudson said in an interview with The Hill last month.

In its letter to Gates, the Wisconsin delegation took the opportunity to praise Oshkosh’s capabilities and assure the defense chief that the company has “more than enough capacity to handle the anticipated FMTV production, as well as any surge production that might be required, with no impact on its existing contracts.”

Compared to other defense companies with high-stakes interests at the Pentagon, Oshkosh, which also has commercial business, does not have a large political action committee. Still, it has contributed consistently to some members of the Wisconsin delegation.

Obey has received $19,200 from Oshkosh since the 2000 election cycle, Petri, who sits on the Transportation and Infrastructure panel, received $17,650, and Kagen received $10,000.

Overall, Oshkosh spent close to $120,000 on congressional campaign contributions in the 2008 elections, according to data from the Center for Responsive Politics.

BAE Systems, which is a much larger company than Oshkosh, spent $1,260,266 on campaign donations in 2008.