Thus far, that hasn’t been the case — if you believe Alabama Gov. Bob Riley, who wants the tankers built at Mobile’s Brookley Field, and the European Aeronautic Defense and Space Co. (EADS), which would open a $600 million production plant in south Alabama should it win the contract.
Their belief that the Pentagon’s midstream changes to the bidding process unfairly aided EADS rival Boeing seems spot-on.
Today, however, the hope is that fairness will re-emerge following EADS’ Tuesday announcement that it will aggressively seek the contract to provide the Air Force 179 new tankers.
That’s great news for Alabama.
It’s also great news for the Air Force.
Remember, Alabama has celebrated an EADS victory in the Air Force contract competition once before. That happened nearly two years ago, when Riley and south Alabama officials cheered the arrival of a massive production plant that would employ thousands of Alabamians.
Of course, that celebration had a short shelf-life. U.S.-based Boeing and politicians in Washington state and Kansas, where Boeing’s footprint carries significant weight, raised a tanker-sized ruckus over the thought of a foreign company winning a $40 billion contract to build Air Force planes.
Problem is, EADS’ partner in the original bid, Northrop Grumman, is an American company. And the EADS planes would be built by Americans — Southerners from several states who would work in Mobile.
Those facts aside, the protest gained traction and created a mess for the Pentagon, which tinkered with the process and reopened the competition in February. Riley rightly cried foul — loudly. Northrop Grumman, with its winning bid snatched away and concerned that the Pentagon’s process would favor Boeing, left the competition.
EADS faced a decision: Go for the contract alone, or leave the contract for Boeing in what would ostensibly be an unsightly no-bid process.
Kudos to EADS for refusing to give up on this lucrative deal that’s critical to the Air Force. If anything, EADS’ decision will ensure that the Pentagon will not award a contract to a sole bidder. There is a reason that competitive-bidding regulations exist.
The spirit of that concept must apply to this contract. The stakes are too high.
This page has said this before, but it’s worth repeating: Alabama’s interests do not trump those of the Air Force. Military pilots who depend on these tankers deserve the best product, regardless of the manufacturer. That must be the overriding priority.
If EADS can bring thousands of jobs to south Alabama, then this state will be a happy beneficiary of an international company’s success and the Pentagon’s fair bidding process.
Remember, that’s all Alabama has wanted. A fair chance. Perhaps now that will happen.