Friday, April 04, 2008

A Good Deal for America by Governor of Alabama Bob Riley

The Air Force's selection of Northrop Grumman to build its replacement for the KC-135 surprised many Pentagon-watchers. It also unleashed an unfortunate tsunami of shock and indignation from some politicians.

I, too, am shocked but not at the Air Force's decision. I'm shocked at the shrill rhetoric and outright falsehoods being hurled at the winners of this competition. If we are to have a national discussion on jobs and the defense industry, it should be based on facts.

First, and perhaps most obviously, Northrop Grumman is an American company. With its headquarters in Los Angeles, it employs 120,000 Americans in every corner of our great nation. Northrop Grumman has been a fixture in American aerospace from the F6F "Hellcat" and P-61 "Black Widow" to the F/A-18 "Hornet" and B-2 stealth bomber. Northrop Grumman is as American as apple pie and baseball.

Second, Northrop Grumman had the courage to enter the competition, knowing it was the underdog. It secured suppliers in the same manner as its competitor and its victory will employ 48,000 Americans in 49 states in direct and indirect jobs. That's a significant boost to America's industrial base.

More than 7,500 of those jobs are in California, 4,000 in Arizona, 1,800 in New Mexico and 2,300 in Ohio. Plus, 5,000 of those Americans call Alabama home. To decry the Air Force's decision as sending jobs overseas ignores the reality of these thousands of American jobs being created at home. It also ignores the fact that the Northrop Grumman tanker program does not transfer any jobs from the United States overseas. Actually, with the Northrop win, new jobs will be added to the U.S. industrial base.

Third, the competition for the tanker contract was the most rigorous and transparent in the history of the Air Force. It certainly has been the most scrutinized. The Defense Department inspector general, the Government Accountability Office and Army and Navy acquisition personnel were all involved to ensure fair methodologies were used in judging the competitors' proposals. Throughout the process, both competitors praised the Air Force for conducting a fair and open competition.

Fourth, in America, when you have a competition, the winner is supposed to be selected on the merits, not because someone wanted to change the rules after the fact because their competitor didn't win.

Two great American companies competed, so who won?

Our troops won because they are getting an aircraft the Air Force decided has the most capabilities. Our citizens won because the Air Force selected the aircraft that was judged to be the best value to the taxpayers. Our nation won because America is getting a second aerospace sector and the first new wide-body aircraft manufacturing plant in 40 years.

Politicians always talk about giving our troops the best equipment. Well, a fair competition judged this aircraft as being the best equipment for our troops. It's dismaying to hear some in Congress now talking about blocking funds so the Air Force can't replace its aging fleet of tankers just because Northrop Grumman won. The average age of these tankers is now almost 50 years old.

In a time of war, it would be an outrage if politics forced our troops to wait any longer for the equipment they need, or if politics forced an inferior product on them.

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