Months later, Alabama is still waiting. It's also licking its wounds after U.S. Rep. John Murtha, D-Pa., withdrew his proposal that would have at least guaranteed that the state would receive a portion of this lucrative pie.
This is no little matter. If the full contract goes to Northrop Grumman-EADS, that company would construct a $600 million assembly plant at Brookley, where it will build some 179 planes over the next 15 years.
You may recall that when the contract was first bid, it appeared that Northrop Grumman-EADS had won the $40 billion contract, but the company's competitor, Boeing Corp., protested. In the review, government investigators found that the Air Force had made "a number of significant errors," so the process began again.
And it stalled.
No matter which company gets the contract, dragging this out is not good for the country. The current tanker fleet dates to the 1950s. Merely keeping the planes repaired and flying costs nearly half-a-billion dollars a year. Faced with this scenario, talk on Capitol Hill turned to splitting the contract between the companies.
Defense Secretary Robert Gates vehemently opposed this plan. "I'm laying my body down across the tracks," was how he put it. His reasoning appeared to be financial, since he estimated it would drive up the project's cost by around $7 billion.
However, with the economy the way it is, and the need for the tankers ever increasing, some members of Congress, including Murtha, made a serious push for a split that would have given jobs and money both to Mobile and the communities where Boeing is headquartered.
Mobile certainly stood to gain from the proposal. If that city got a share of the work, then EADS pledged that its subsidiary, Airbus, would produce A330 commercial freighters at the Brookley Field facility. In turn, Mobile would become a hub for large aircraft production.
It also would give Alabama another industry to go with automobile manufacturing. Industrial diversity never hurts.
Unfortunately, Gates' opposition won out. The idea of splitting the tanker contract was extremely attractive for some states, but the White House effectively nixed the idea by positioning congressional leaders, including Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., against Murtha's proposal, the Wall Street Journal reported.
The effort is not over. We urge our congressional delegation to support the call for hearings on the matter and hope Alabama remains in the mix for the complete tanker contract.