We have been told by two sources, including one that is very close to the competition, that the Air Force is likely to announce a new delay soon in evaluation and award of a contract in the long-running KC-X tanker competition.
One source says the delay will be until the first quarter; the other didn’t have a new timeline but said the USAF was preparing to notify the competitors any time now.
We have written on several occasions, including a week ago, that another delay was likely. The USAF has already delayed the current competition, the third, from August and November to December and hinted a week ago another one was coming.
Boeing and EADS are the remaining bidders for the contract after the Government Accountability Office threw out a protest from US Aerospace, which was late submitting its bid.
The Air Force is evaluating the Boeing and EADS bids, and we’ve been told that the evaluation is proceeding more slowly than anticipated. The USAF issues what are called Evaluation Notices, or ENs, to the companies when it seeks additional information. This process is going slowly, we’re told.
There is also a point in which Boeing and EADS will be asked to submit Final Proposal Revisions, or FPRs (pronounced “fippers”), that amount to the best-and-final submissions. As of early this week, the FPR date had not been provided to the two companies.
The slip to after the first of the year has unintended political implications. Pundits are certain the Republicans will win control of the House of Representatives, which means US Rep. Norm Dicks (D-Boeing/WA), Boeing’s biggest booster in the House, will lose his chairmanship of the House Defense Appropriations Subcommittee that will be the first stop for funding the tanker award. Dicks has long vowed to block any funding should EADS win the contract. Conventional wisdom, though generally overstated, is that EADS is closer to Republicans and Boeing is closer to Democrats in the tanker fight. In fact, there are members of both parties who are supporters of both companies.
In Washington State’s tight Senate race, incumbent Patty Murray (D-Boeing) is in a tight race over Republican Dino Rossi. Murray generally leads Rossi in polling by 2-4 points, within the margin of error, with a few polls giving her a six point lead, beyond the margin of error. Rossi, if elected, will still support Boeing, but Murray is now the #4 ranking Democrat in the Senate, which is expected to remain in Democratic hands. She will be in the better position and have the clout to work harder to block funding for EADS than would the freshman Rossi, particularly as a member of the minority.
There is no clear-cut beneficiary to a new delay. But there remains a clear-cut loser, and that’s the Air Force which is faced with continued reliance on 50-year old Boeing KC-135s.