Tanker, Influence and Questions
Here's another thought or two about the $40 billion Air Force fuel tanker contract and some related matters.
Please, gentle readers, be patient. Goverment Inc. is feeling a bit slow and doesn't understand everything that's happening. It feels like some people don't want us to understand who is promoting what for whom and how much. Come to think of it, it feels like some Washington-style business is happenng. This may take a little ink.
First we want to lay out a few details related to a longish earlier posting about the fascinating role being played by a non-profit advocacy group called Citizens Against Government Waste. We also want to ask a few questions.
Big Question No. 1 concerns the ties between CAGW, as the group calls itself, and Northrop Grumman and European Aeronautic Defence and Space, the partners who defeated Boeing to win the contract.
Diligent readers will recall a slight discrepancy between what CAGW spokeswoman Leslie Paige told Government Inc. and what Northrop spokesman Randy Belote told us.
Paige said her group was working independently of Northrop. "We are not promoting anyone's interests," she said.
Belote said CAGW had approached Northrop, offering to help spread word of the merits of the contract award in order to protect the "integrity" of the procurement process.
Yesterday a reader forwarded Government Inc. an email sent out by a group called America's New Tanker. In strong language, the email letter implores recipients to speak out on behalf of this urgent issue, to call their lawmakers and prevent anyone from trying to reverse the contract awarded to Northrop.
"The United States Air Force is Under Attack!" the missive is headlined. "Our military men and women need your help!"
Should we be surprised that America's New Tanker is a Northrop group, according to Belote? Or that the links in the document take readers to a CAGW Web page?
But hold on, that would mean that Northrop and CAGW were working together to promote Northrop's interests, right?
Here's another excerpt from the email:
"Our friends at Citizens Against Government Waste have been actively engaged for six years in making sure that this tanker project is awarded through a fair and open competition. They are convinced the process was just that -- open and fair, resulting in the best company winning the contract."
There's more on our mind. Today, the folks at CAGW are planning to hold a meeting. It's the meeting where they're going to discuss forming a coalition of other good government and taxpayer groups to keep the procurement process honest. (In the earlier Government Inc. posting the CAGW said there wasn't really a coalition, even though their own email said there was going to be a coalition, including a Web site etc. etc. )
Anyway, here's today's Big Question 2: Who is Bill Lauderback and who is he working for?
In an earlier email sent out by CAGW announcing the meeting, Lauderback is cited as the person who will "will be in attendance to explain the coalition and answer questions."
Lauderback is a political and lobbying veteran who used to be "executive vice president of the American Conservative Union, a free market oriented grassroots lobbying organization."
That is according to his bio at his current job as senior advisor at Public Strategies, a communications and public relations firm that hires political, government and corporate talent to shape public opinion and "manage the public issues that effect the bottom line."
Yesterday, Lauderback did not return repeated phone calls to answer our question. And CAGW won't say whether he's working for them or whether they're paying his bills. Here's what spokeswoman Paige had to say in response to our query:
"We have a policy here at CAGW, just like lots of other organizations, not to discuss any contractual arrangements except when required to by law. Don't read this response as a denial or a confirmation of any arrangement with Bill Lauderback. That would be a mistake. We simply are not going to change that policy," she said.
"With regard to whom Bill Lauderback works for, you are free to contact him, obviously."
If Lauderback is working for CAGW, I wonder at the cost and the reasons. With all his experience and connections, he must charge a lot to provide his kind of advice. They're a non-profit group, right?
Big Question 3: If CAGW isn't paying Lauderback, who is and why?
This morning, we checked in again with Lauderback's office. He remained unavailable. But his secretary referred us to Randy Belote of Northrop, saying he would answer any questions. Here's what he said in an email:
"It is Northrop Grumman policy that we do not identify consultants that provide services to the corporation nor do we publicly talk about what our consultants do for the corporation."
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