Governors hope Air Force tankers will fuel state economies

A coalition of governors led by Washington Governor Chris Gregoire gathered yesterday at the National Press Club to lobby for Boeing and the thousands of jobs that would be created if the Air Force awards the KC-45 refueling tanker contract to the company. The twice-disputed contract is worth over $35 billion to the winning manufacturer, and it is scheduled for an RFP this Wednesday.

In what will be one of the largest contracts ever awarded, Boeing is competing with a team led by Northrop Grumman and Airbus maker EADS to replace a fleet of Eisenhower-era refueling aircraft. Beyond the jaw-dropping price of the contract, the program would spur millions in state economic activity, a position both companies and governors from eight states are emphasizing.

Governors from two states with large Boeing operations, Washington and Kansas, spoke on behalf of the governors of Maine, Iowa, Utah, Oregon, Missouri, Illinois and Connecticut in organizing the U.S. Tanker 2010 Coalition, saying a Boeing win would be timely, good for America’s national security and a boon to many states’ economy.

“We can’t wait any longer,” Gov. Gregoire urged, claiming that to replicate Boeing’s capabilities, the Northrop-EADS team would need five years to get the assembly “up and running.”

Gov. Gregoire said that awarding the tanker contract to Boeing was important because it would play an important role in the nation’s defense and recovery efforts, like natural disasters like Hurricane Katrina, while creating 40,000 to 50,000 jobs for states across the nation and ensuring a skilled manufacturing sector.
Boeing’s tankers would be “built in America without any questions,” she said, addressing what some critics claim is the weakness of the Northrop-EADS proposal because parts would be manufactured in Europe and sent to Mobile, Alabama to be assembled.

According to Northrop Grumman’s website, their proposal would employ 48,000 American jobs in the US, while partnering with over 250 American partners, including General Electric Aviation, Honeywell, Goodrich, Parker and others. Although all of the states that have signed on with the U.S. Tanker 2010 Coalition also stand to see increased economic gain with a Northrop-EADS win, Gov. Mark Parkinson of Kansas called the decision to go with Boeing one of those rare “no brainers” for Washington.

“Some states where jobs growth will be minimal are also part of the coalition because its important to the entire country – for national security and that the jobs stay in the US…it’s an absolute no brainer.”

When asked if there was a danger in politicizing the contracting process when the Air Force was explicitly trying to avoid such problems, Gov. Gregoire said that when Boeing originally protested the Northrop-EADS win last year, “overall cost wasn’t considered.”

“No one looked at life-cycle costs. The winning bid could not land on many runways in the country. The winning bid could not be housed at many facilities across the country.”

“It’s time for a level playing field.”

Reuters reported last night that the Air Force will issue a the final terms for the aerial tanker this week, probably Wednesday. “We are very hopeful that we will have two competitors and we think that it is a very fair RFP (request for proposals),” Gates told Reuters. “I expect it to be released pretty soon.”

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