Group: Firms should split tanker deal

A new coalition on Monday jumped into the middle of the politically charged competition for a multibillion-dollar Air Force refueling tanker contract. 

The nonpartisan coalition dubbed “American Jobs Now” has launched a campaign pushing for the $35 billion contract to be split between competitors Northrop Grumman and Boeing. 

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The coalition has named its grassroots campaign “Build Them Both,” and it comes as the Pentagon prepares this week to release its final request for proposals to build the new tanker fleet. 

Northrop Grumman, teamed with EADS North America, has been going head to head with Boeing for the contract to replace the Eisenhower-era tankers. EADS is the parent company of Airbus, Boeing’s rival on the commercial aircraft market. 

So far, those three groups are not involved in the new campaign, American Jobs Now Executive Director Daniel Kohns told The Hill. But he said he is seeking their involvement. Apart from reaching out to the three companies, the coalition has also reached out to labor unions and suppliers. 

The coalition argues the government should buy tankers from both Northrop and Boeing, instead of selecting one company, because it would create 100,000 long-lasting jobs across the country. On Monday, it kicked off a petition-signing campaign to urge Obama to take the dual-buy course. 

The coalition, which is a 501(c)4 nonprofit organization, does not have to disclose its contributors. Kohns said Northrop, Boeing and EADS have not contributed funds to the effort. However, he added, the coalition will ask the companies to support it financially. Kohns also said he is waiting for permission to disclose the current contributors.

The idea of splitting the contract is not new to the Build Them Both campaign. 

The Aerospace Alliance has been advocating that the Air Force split the contract between Northrop and Boeing. The Aerospace Alliance is a business and economic group that aims to establish the Gulf Coast and surrounding region as an aerospace and aviation hub. The Alliance’s member states are Alabama, Mississippi, Florida and Louisiana.

Northrop Grumman would assemble the new tanker fleet in Mobile, Ala. Mobile Mayor Sam Jones was at the White House and Capitol Hill last month advocating for the split buy. 

Meanwhile, the Mobile County Commission also set up a website, www.keepourtanker.com, advocating for the Northrop team. Keepourtanker.com also featured the news of the new coalition pushing for the dual buy. 

Northrop Grumman and EADS last February won the contract for the new tanker, but Boeing successfully protested the award with the Government Accountability Office. The Pentagon subsequently decided to reopen the competition. 

After that happened, Northrop Grumman and EADS threatened in December to pull out of the competition. The companies complained that the new bidding process was stacked against them and that without changes to the selection criteria, they could not submit an offer.

The Air Force has been making changes to the formal request for the proposal, but Pentagon officials refuted any notion that officials are making adjustments to the request document to favor either of the competitors.

If the Northrop-EADS team decides not to compete, Boeing would remain the sole competitor. Boeing has major operations in Washington state and Kansas, and the governors from those states also launched a coalition on Monday to back Boeing’s efforts to win the contract.