The USAF and EADS need to come forward with full details to fully explain the latest cock-up (a British term, not an obscene one) in which the Air Force mistakenly sent EADS and Boeing proprietary information about the other company’s KC-X submission.
EADS, the Air Force and Boeing say that when EADS and Boeing discovered the error, the companies began a procedure that has been in place for years to seal up the files and computers and to notify the USAF of the error. The Air Force initially said, in essence, “no harm, no foul.” But then in classic Wikileaks fashion, information dribbled out bit-by-bit that there was more to the story than the Air Force–and EADS–let on.
At a press conference–which we were at–EADS North America CEO Sean O’Keefe gave a detailed response to questions about the matter. But within days, it was charged by Lexington Institute’s Loren Thompson that EADS had actually opened the proprietary file but Boeing had not. He did not cite sources for his information, and his close ties to Boeing immediately raised the suspicion that Boeing leaked this information to him.
Whether Boeing leaked the information or Thompson, who has well-placed sources in the Pentagon, got it from DOD remains a mystery. But having reported the information, reporters later confirmed it, leaving the impression with many of us (ourselves included) that EADS and the USAF had not been entirely forthcoming.
We accept O’Keefe’s responses at the press conference that there was nothing nefarious going on at EADS. We also accept his statements, in response to our own question there, that these mistakes, while rare, are not uncommon in government. Remember that before becoming CEO of EADS North America, O’Keefe was the NASA Administrator and previously had served as Secretary of the Navy. O’Keefe explained at the press conference that procedures exist to deal with this contingency, and he was confident that EADS, the Air Force and he presumed Boeing all followed the procedures explicitly.
But in light of subsequent Wikileak-style of dribbles, this isn’t enough, especially for this competition, which has been marred by improprieties and mismanagement since the original tanker contract was awarded to Boeing in 2002.
The Air Force and EADS need to issue a point-by-point timeline of what happened and when–sort of a fallback to the famous Watergate refrain of “What did the President know and when did he know it?” The parties also have to detail the corrective steps taken in the wake of the events. Only then will the air be cleared.
This event has given Boeing yet another reason to posture about improprieties and protests, as if it needed another one. But we think Boeing has some ‘splainin’ to do, too. Just as the Air Force and EADS should issue a detailed timeline of “what did they know and when did they know it,” Boeing should as well to prove its hands are as squeaky-clean as it claims. Among the things to discuss: Did Boeing tip off Thompson? If so, was this in violation of some confidential communication between the Air Force, EADS and Boeing?
The entire mess is yet another example of how the Air Force can’t seem to “get it right.” Whether this is truly a “no harm, no foul” event as claimed by the Air Force remains to be seen. More disclosure, by all three parties, is necessary. But clearly the burden here is on the USAF and EADS.