Tanker And McCain

Remember the Air Force refueling tanker contract, that $40 billion deal announced a few months ago? It just got a lot more interesting.

Think presidential election campaign.

First a little background. You may recall that a self-styled taxpayer group called Citizens Against Government Waste went on the public relations warpath to defend the deal. Government Inc. was able to show that CAGW, a tax-exempt charity, had teamed up with contract winner Northrop Grumman to urge Americans to speak out in favor of the award.

CAGW also condemned critics of the deal, who wanted the award to go to incumbent Boeing. (Democrats, unions and other critics contend, sometimes in hyperbolic rhetoric, the award to Northrop and its partner, European Aeronautic Defence and Space Company, would mean a loss of thousands of jobs to European factories.)

Anyway, it turns out that Sen. John McCain got hammered after the contract was announced. McCain had pressed hard for a wide open competition, including foreign companies, saying it would lead to a cleaner and more effective deal. Democrats and trade unions blamed him for what they said would be huge job losses.

The campaign was really frustrated because they want McCain to be seen as a taxpayer advocate, not as a guy who sends jobs abroad.

Guess who McCain's campaign reached out to for help and information? You got it: CAGW. Did you know that one of McCain's best buddies and a campaign volunteer sits on CAGW's board? (Swindle is also on the board of the group's lobbying arm, which endorsed McCain.) Or that CAGW's lobby PAC has donated most of its cash to McCain over the last four years? Or that McCain's campaign loves to cite a quote from CAGW in its ads, one that describes McCain as a taxpayer hero?

Or that....Well, you get the point.

CAGW has been accused in the past of accepting money from organizations that benefit from its advocacy. Their tanker campaign does not mention McCain. One has to wonder whether they're serving here as a proxy?

CAGW and McCain's campaign say they're not coordinating and that they're each separately working only in the interests of taxpayers.

Now for the multi-media, let's go to the video.

By Robert O'Harrow |  June 4, 2008; 2:06 PM ET
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Please email us to report offensive comments.

You didn't mention the $250M that Boeing spent on paid advertisments in every major news paper in the US following their loss. You didn't mention the tanker lease deal that Boeing fixed with the Air Force and wound up sending 2 Boeing executives to jail. Your report is very one-sided and basically wrong. The PR campaign has all been Boeing. They loss the competition and are now trying to get around the process through politics. The Boeing tanker program would cost the tax payer more and do less.

Posted by: Jack | June 5, 2008 10:33 AM

Well, of course. McCain gets as thick as thieves with the EADS lobbyists. He then pillories the USAF until they tune the tanker Request For Proposal to make it more amenable to the bloated Airbus model. To get McCain off its back, the USAF goes the EADS route on the tanker deal. Mission accomplished, the EADS lobbyists are then eased out of the McCain campaign, while McCain himself asserts that all he wanted was fair competition for the tanker. As Frank Gaffney has noted, McCain's competition-uber-alles thrust basically propped up EADS as a competitor ... to the point of landing EADS the tanker. How much money is the gas-hog EADS tanker to save the taxpayer with oil @ $130 a barrel, Senator McCain?

That McCain and this CAGW outfit are also as thick as thieves should come as little surprise. What is ironic to the point of maddening hypocrisy is that McCain will champion McCain-Feingold in the name of cleaning up political campaigning, and then deploy this CAGW subterfuge when it comes to his own campaign. He who drives the Straight Talk Express is not a Straight Shooter.

Posted by: Irony Jones | June 5, 2008 11:22 AM

I used to think the Washington Post- your paper -was just that -- a NEWS paper. It really does seem that so many stories comeing from the WP are so slanted and prejudicial that perhaps it should now be sold at the checkout line of your local supermarket instead of a NEWSstand.

Posted by: Robert Mahaffey | June 5, 2008 3:36 PM

Not that this is possible but politics needs to be removed from the military procurement process. It is not the job of the armed forces to subsidize the US economy. If the selection process was flawed then fine fix it and move on. All of this manipulative bickering and rhetoric is delaying the actual objective of the program... providing the USAF with a new tanker. As an aircraft maintainer in the USAF, my interest is in receiving the most capable and reliable aircraft as soon as possible. Where it comes from and who builds it is inconsequential. If it is found that the selection of the A330 was valid, Boeing needs to walk away, learn their lesson and build a better aircraft next time. That's how competition is supposed to work.

Posted by: Rick | June 9, 2008 4:23 PM

This article is more political than informative. See Jack's comment for a more full and complete picture. If Boeing is so all American and beneficial to the taxpayer, then why didn't they WIN the contract? Boeing had a choice to make a better bid, one that obviously was possible by other comapanies.. This article smacks of the same bias that would level attacks against Haliburton and the Iraq situation for the same egeagious behavior.. but this time the wpost can injure McC, thus helping the media darling BO.

Posted by: JLabar | June 11, 2008 9:48 AM

This issue is political! When did we start outsourcing jobs in the United States for defense contracting. If Boeing loses 40,000 employees because of outsourcing, it does matter to the American economy and a lot of American workers. What's next, F35s and nuclear aircraft carriers.

Posted by: Dennis | June 11, 2008 11:27 AM

If the Air Force, Congress or the Administration really wanted to save money they wouldn't be buying new planes at all. For a tiny fraction of the cost of the new planes they could buy and retrofit (make new) a fleet of older planes (planes that have proven over time that they can accomplish the mission). The Air Force couldn't care less about the budget deficit, they just want new toys to play with and the taxpayers be dammed! Shame on our leaders (and Mr. McCain) for not standing up against this wasteful behavior.

Posted by: Peter | June 11, 2008 11:49 AM

In the original May 31, 2008 article, Mr. O'Harrow wrote: "Because of their tax-exempt status, nonprofits, or 501(c)3s, are not supposed to engage in political activity. They are allowed, however, to set up a separate political arm -- known as a 501(c)4 -- that may donate money to candidates and lobby on policy issues as long as political activity is not its primary purpose."

This quote suggests that 501(c)(3) nonprofits, called charitable organizations by the IRS, can not lobby on policy issues or engage in political activity. This is wrong and dangerous.

It is wrong because 501(c)(3) charities legally can and should engage in lobbying on policy issues, in a full range of nonpartisan political activities, and other forms of advocacy as set forth in the law.

It is dangerous because we need charitable organizations to let their and their constituent's voices be heard at the policy table in order to resolve social problems and strengthen our democratic process.

Posted by: Larry Ottinger | June 11, 2008 4:42 PM

There are a couple of points that seemed to be ignored by those that advocate Boeing's point of view, beyond the fact that Boeing officials were caught rigging the initial bid.

1) The contract award is only for the first batch of tankers. Boeing still has the opportunity to compete again for the follow-on contracts with a superior proposal tied to a superior product (i.e. 757, 767, 777, 787), should they chose to risk more of their funds to do so. Are they so shorted-sighted at to being totally risk-averse? Putting their own funds to develop a superior product (the fuel-transfer component) is one factor that helped Northrup Grumman win the contract.

2) When it comes to transferring American jobs off-shore Boeing has not been a slouch. None of the pro-Boeing propaganda missives have mentioned the thousands of jobs that were transferred to China by Boeing along with collateral manufacturing technology transfer.

Posted by: Reinaldo Luis Andujar | June 16, 2008 9:55 AM

In a time all of the "citizens" are having to squeeze the last penny out of each nickel, why are the politicians spending more and more on their pork barrel projects and taking huge bribes to line their pockets and not concerned about the little guy who can't pay for health insurance or buy groceries. I'm a disabled vet and I have to pay the V.A. for office visits, drugs, and anything elsse I get while the fat cats on the hill get fatter and fatter. I'm to the point I'd almost rather be in another country like Denmark.

Posted by: Eugene Rucker | June 17, 2008 4:33 PM

For those that haven't read the GAO report, I would suggest that you do. I do not favor one over the other, but from what I read, the process definitely had holes and flaws that specifically favored the EADS contract. Admittedly they may have a good airplane, but is it the right plane for the job. The RFP was about replacing the KC-135 - the KC-10 replacement - the larger tanker, was to happen later. My past aerial refueling experience, (which is fairly extensive) seems to lean to the smaller plane being the better choice and more advantageous from a cost perspective. However, by finnagling the numbers to let NG/EADS win the contract, the integrity of the process was lost and we won't really know who had the better product.

Personally, I am tired of the bickering over Boeing's past - they have paid their dues and two stupid people who have done jail time and are no longer part of the Boeing company,should not continue to be a shadow over the company. On the other hand NG/EADS reports should focus on the products offered and not the integrity of the opposing company as a whole. I don't read Boeing Articles that slam NG or EADS, only reference to the product offered. However, the NG/EADS articles seem to be content in slamming Boeing regardless of who writes the articles. From the GAO report, Boeing had a legitimate right to protest and exercised it (something that they don't do often). Perhaps there is more to this than any one person can really understand.

Posted by: Gary | June 19, 2008 10:37 PM

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