The officially controversial $40 billion deal for the Air Force fuel tanker keeps on kicking up dust in Washington. First there was the surprise award to Northrop Grumman and its partner, European Aeronautic Defence and Space. In other words, NOT to Boeing, which many insiders assumed had a virtual lock on it.
Then came harrumphing from certain members of Congress, who painted the deal as unpatriotic because it would mean losing jobs to a, yes, European company. There has been talk of stalling the contract from none other than Rep. John P. Murtha (D-Pa.), chairman of the powerful armed services appropriations committee, who threatened to cut off money for the program. "This is not a done deal," he said earlier this month.
Now comes a non-profit advocacy group called Citizens Against Government Waste, which has declared its intention to "make sure Congress doesn't reverse the decision of a fair and competitive bid." That's according to an email the group sent out to other non-profits and procurement-savvy groups in town.
From Government Inc.'s perspective, this latest quiet turn is fascinating. For starters, the group's vice president for government affairs wrote in the email that CAGW, as the group calls itself, was "participating in a new coalition concerning the Air Force's fuel tanker."
"Don't bother looking for the coalition on the web, there is no home page yet, but we would like for you to learn more about the coalition and hopefully you will join too."
But when Government Inc. called about the coalition -- and whether Northrop was participating -- we were told flat out: "There is no coalition." That's a quote from the group's spokeswoman Leslie Paige.
There was another little snag that we wanted to sort out. It had to do with a "fact sheet" that was included in the email recruiting the other taxpayer groups. It included a number of "talking points" touting the reasons Northrop deserved to win the deal.
Government Inc. is interested because the "fact sheet" tracked almost word for word with a "fact sheet" that Northrop had been sending out to reporters, including to my colleague Dana Hedgpeth, who graciously pointed out the striking similarities.
The CAGW email: "The KC-45A competition underwent the most rigorous, fair and transparent acquisition process in Defense Department history."
The Northrop fact sheet: "The KC-45A competition underwent the most rigorous, transparent acquisition process in U.S. Department of Defense history."
The CAGW email: The Northrop Grumman KC-45A U.S. supplier base includes 230 companies in 49 states."
The Northrop fact sheet: "The KC-45A U.S. supplier base will include 230 companies in 49 states."
CAGW spokeswoman Paige said that her colleague "clipped and pasted some of the facts" in her email, and that the group takes "talking points from all sorts of people." She said the group has a long track record on this issue and takes it seriously.
"We are not promoting anyone's interests," she said, adding that Northrop was not a part of the coalition because the coalition mentioned in the email doesn't really exist.
When asked whether Northrop was supporting the CAGW push, company spokesman Randy Belote said, "We certainly agree with those views." But he said he had no idea whether the company was actively involved it. He said he would check and get back to us.
In a phone message, he said that CAGW and other groups had contacted Northrop about the matter. He said CAGW and was working to preserve "integrity" in the procurement process.
"I wouldn't characterize it as working with them," he said.
Government Inc. received a nice atta boy note from a reader, who suggested we take a look at a St. Pete Times story about CAGW two years ago. According to the story, the organization has a history of getting involved in certain issues and working closely with and, in some cases taking money from, vested interests.
In one of those cases, CAGW pressed hard to allow avacado imports from Mexico while taking $100,000 from Mexican avocado growers, said the story by reporter Bill Adair.
"That's just one of many instances in which CAGW has traded on its watchdog reputation by taking money from companies and trade associations and then conducted lobbying and public relations campaigns on their behalf - without revealing that money changed hands," the story said.
In a phone call, CAGW President Tom Schatz called the story "inaccurate" and "biased." But he declined to provide details. He acknowledged accepting money from entities involved on the same side of issues as his group, but he said "the amount of money is irrelevant." Here is the group's rebuttal to the article.
"The beneficiaries of our advocacy are the taxpayers," he said.
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