Measures target Northrop tanker contract

The House Rules Committee is set to consider two amendments backed by opponents of the Air Force’s decision to award a key contract to Northrop Grumman and EADS North America, instead of Boeing.

Only one of the two amendments to the 2009 defense authorization bill could affect the Air Force decision. Rep. Duncan Hunter’s (R-Calif.) measure would force the tankers under contract with Northrop Grumman to be built with 85 percent U.S. components.

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This could be difficult for Northrop Grumman and its partner, EADS, a Franco-German conglomerate that owns Boeing’s rival Airbus, since their offer is expected to include 60 percent American content.

However, a Northrop Grumman spokesman said the company is planning to bring in more U.S. suppliers over the course of the $40 billion contract, increasing the plane’s U.S. content. The tanker is based on the commercial Airbus 330, which is 60 percent U.S. content.

The Boeing 767 that would serve as the basis for its tanker has 85 percent U.S. content, according to the Chicago-based company.

Current Pentagon acquisition law requires weapons systems to have more than 50 percent U.S. content.

A second amendment offered by Rep. Todd Tiahrt (R-Kan.) would expand a law to forbid foreign companies from doing business with the Pentagon if their officials have been found guilty of bribing foreign officials.

Tiahrt, a strong Boeing supporter and former employee, has criticized EADS for what he has called questionable business practices representing an effort to discredit the company that beat out Boeing.

The Tiahrt measure would change the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA), under which bribery and other corporate misconduct can result in a company being restricted or banned from doing business with U.S. government agencies. The FCPA only applies to U.S. companies.

However, EADS North America is subject to the FCPA and has no record of violations, company officials said.

If adopted, Tiahrt’s amendment would only apply if the Air Force reopens its competition.

The Air Force’s decision to award the valuable contract to Northrop riled Boeing supporters on the Hill. Boeing filed a formal protest with the Government Accountability Office. The GAO is set to rule by June 19.

The Rules Committee is deciding later on Wednesday whether these amendments would be accepted for floor debate.