Two employees removed from $35B tanker program after document mix-up

The Air Force removed two employees from the refueling tanker program after rival companies received sensitive information about their competitors.

Gen. Norton Schwartz, the Air Force chief of staff, on Tuesday said the document mix-up was a “profound disappointment” and indicated more action would be taken to hold accountable those responsible for the mistake.

Schwartz declined to name the two individuals who have been taken off the lucrative tanker program — the Air Force’s top acquisition priority. The Air Force’s efforts to replace its Eisenhower-era tanker fleet have been riddled with controversy during the last decade.

Boeing and EADS are competing for the contract, worth at least $35 billion — one of the largest contracts at the Pentagon for years to come.

The Air Force disclosed Friday that it had transmitted information on EADS's bidding to Boeing, its rival for the contract, and sent Boeing’s information to EADS.

Schwartz on Tuesday said each company received a single page of information — a summary of a complex analysis called the Integrated Fleet Aerial Refueling Assessment. Based on computer models, it assesses how many tankers would be needed to conduct specific Air Force missions.

Each company’s offer is based on different types and sizes of aircraft, information that would determine the outcome of the analysis. EADS, the parent company of Airbus, has based its bid on the A330, while Boeing is proposing a tanker plane based on its commercial 767 aircraft.

Schwartz insisted the data disclosed to the companies did not contain any proprietary information or any prices proposed by the companies. Schwartz’s assurance comes as the Air Force’s mistake could still provide an opening for EADS or Boeing to protest the tanker selection decision.

Sean O’Keefe, chief executive officer of EADS North America, said on Monday he does not want to rule anything out. Even though he referred to the information mix-up as the release of “proprietary” data, O’Keefe insisted it was not a compromising event and that he maintains confidence in the Air Force’s selection process.

Both companies alerted the Air Force to the mix-up and promptly sent back the information. O’Keefe said nobody at his company read the information, and Defense Department officials assured him Boeing did the same with his company’s information. O’Keefe referred any explanation of the mix-up to the Air Force.

Schwartz stressed several times that the summary did not contain proprietary or competitive pricing information. Any disclosure of such information could significantly derail the tanker program.

Boeing declined to comment on the incident.